Dan Zelos has vowed to push flat-out for podium glory in the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup season finale, after a strong turn-of-speed in the penultimate outing at Silverstone last weekend (15-17 September) was undone by a cruel stroke of misfortune.
The talented young Norfolk ace proved to be on the pace from the outset at the celebrated ‘Home of British Motor Racing’, winding up a competitive fourth-quickest amongst the 19 high-calibre protagonists in free practice behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio.
Zelos maintained that form in qualifying, lapping a mere two tenths-of-a-second shy of the outright benchmark to secure sixth and fifth positions on the starting grid for the two races in the fiercely-disputed, ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) feeder series – or so he thought.
Unfortunately, there was to be an unexpected sting in the tail, as along with one of his WDE Motorsport team-mates, the 19-year-old Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student was relegated to the rear of the grid and docked six championship points after it transpired that a tyre number had been incorrectly noted on a scrutineering card.
To add to the drama, thunder, lightning and heavy rain descended as the field lined up for race one, with the apocalyptic conditions prompting a delayed start behind the safety car. Despite having to contend with a misbehaving windscreen as rooster-tails of spray rendered visibility next to non-existent, Zelos maturely mastered the treacherous track surface to progress from 18th to 13th at the chequered flag, lapping faster than his podium-finishing WDE stablemate Paul Rivett along the way.
The weather was dry but cold for the second contest the next day, and from an imposed pit-lane start, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot had no chance to warm up his tyres, leaving him immediately on the back foot again.
After completing the opening lap more than 11 seconds adrift of the lead and five seconds behind the pack, he went on to match and indeed outpace the front-runners for much of the race, going quickest of anybody on lap four. He ultimately wound up 14th, with a better fastest lap to his credit than newly-crowned champion Mike Bushell, who finished second.
It was another valiant effort, albeit damage limitation following his post-qualifying penalty, which caused Zelos to slip from seventh to ninth in the points table with just Brands Hatch’s legendary GP circuit remaining on the calendar on 30 September / 1 October. To say that he is fired-up to sign off his sophomore season in the single-make series in style would be quite the understatement.
“What a missed opportunity of a weekend!” rued the East Anglian teenager. “Practice went well and showed that we had solid pace in all conditions, and we finally enjoyed a good qualifying session too – for the first time since Thruxton back in May! My car was handling like a dream – the WDE boys did a great job with it – and I was working closely with my team-mate Lee [Pattison], but then he had a damper issue that forced him into the pits. That meant I lost my wingman and the benefit of the tow, which plays a massive role at Silverstone.
“Despite that, my lap times were very consistent and I was pleased with sixth and fifth. It put me ahead of the two drivers I was chasing in the championship and firmly in the mix to bring home some trophies, although without Lee’s problem, I do think we could have both been pushing for the top three.
“It was then such a shock to be sent to the back of the grid – it was honestly the severest penalty I’ve ever seen, and all for a number written upside-down on a piece of paper. I understand the series needs to set an example in such situations, but it still seemed excessively harsh. That ended my top five championship charge, and with nothing to realistically fight for, we went out in the races with the intention of simply having some fun.
“In the first of them, the spray made it difficult to gain ground and moisture started getting in through the air vents fairly early on, which caused my windscreen to steam up. I grabbed a few places but in the limited visibility, once I lost sight of the tail-lights of the car ahead, it became very tricky to accurately make out braking-points. The conditions were probably the worst I’ve ever driven in, but we kept it on the island and brought the car home in one piece, which was the best we could have hoped for in the circumstances.
“In race two, I knew a safety car represented my only real chance of clawing back any reasonable ground and of course that never materialised. I kept pushing and if nothing else, it allowed us to demonstrate our speed. Our lap times were on a par with the guys that finished on the podium, which went to show what might have been.
“To rub salt into the wounds, a lot of the drivers that I’m battling in the championship had good weekends, but we can still take plenty of confidence with us to Brands Hatch. We’ve resolved our qualifying troubles at last and our race pace has always been strong, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to challenge for the top three there.
“We’ve come close several times this season but we only have one more opportunity left now, so that has to be the goal. The pressure is off, and at the end of the day, there would be no better way to repay WDE for believing in me and working so hard all year. Let’s do this!”
“We let Dan down at Silverstone, without a doubt, and that hurt,” added WDE Team Principal Wayne Eason. “It was a simple clerical error on the team’s part – nothing to do with Dan at all, and I really felt for him because he didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and was very quick. His first UK Clio Cup podium is well-overdue, and he will come back fighting at Brands Hatch, believe me.”