Dan Zelos delighted his fans with a brilliant performance on home turf at Snetterton last weekend (28-30 July), as he overcame a variety of issues during free practice and qualifying in the fiercely-disputed Renault UK Clio Cup to storm through the field on race day for a brace of top six finishes.
Following a seven-week mid-season hiatus, Zelos was understandably eager to return to action – all the more so since Snetterton is just half-an-hour down the road from his home in Dereham. The talented young Norfolk ace enjoyed an impressive opening half to his sophomore campaign in the single-make, British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) feeder series – yielding his maiden pole position and fastest lap – and he duly headed into the weekend in optimistic mood.
That optimism was backed up when he went fourth-quickest in the first practice session amongst the 19 high-calibre protagonists, but a persistent vibration restricted Zelos to only six laps in the afternoon – leaving him short on track time in relation to his rivals.
To compound matters, the problem resurfaced in qualifying the next day, and following a driveshaft replacement, a loose wheel bearing then caused braking difficulties. The upshot was just ninth and 12th on the grid for Sunday’s ITV4-televised races, when the East Anglian teenager had been hopeful of pushing for a front row slot.
Undeterred, Zelos leapt off the line at the start of race one and carefully navigated his way through a lively first lap to advance to sixth, pulling off a superb two-for-the-price-of-one pass for good measure. Swiftly settling into an enthralling nine-car slipstreaming scrap for second, he stole fifth position with a neat dive up the inside into Agostini on lap three.
Continuing to apply pressure on the drivers ahead, the highly-rated WDE Motorsport ace found his mirrors full of three-time champion Paul Rivett in the closing stages as he grappled with overheating brakes. Mindful of his hard-charging team-mate’s title aspirations, Zelos elected not to force the situation and was happy to take sixth place at the chequered flag for a very solid points haul.
Behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio, the 19-year-old made another excellent start in race two and was the biggest mover in the pack as he gained four positions to eighth. After opportunistically snatching seventh on lap two, a retirement ahead and a feisty move on qualifying pace-setter Dorlin earned him fifth approaching half-distance as he self-assuredly showcased his ever-improving racecraft.
Posting his personal fastest lap of the race on the final tour, Zelos’ fifth top six finish of the season – and the best combined score of his UK Clio Cup career – elevated him from eighth to seventh in the 2017 standings, with the goal of climbing even higher in the next outing at Rockingham at the end of August.
“It was a great weekend, and our busiest one of the year without a doubt,” reflected the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “I had a lot of sponsors, family and friends come along to watch, which was fantastic and I was determined to put on a good show for them. I always look forward to going to Snetterton because it’s my home circuit, and after such a long summer break, I was excited to get back on-track.
“We put in a lot of preparation and that showed in FP1 when we were right on the pace, but then our problems began in FP2. Three laps into the session I noticed a vibration from the car, which got increasingly louder. We made several changes overnight and thought we had resolved the issue, but as soon as we went out in qualifying, we realised it was still there.
“The WDE boys did an incredible job to change the driveshaft in just two-and-a-half minutes, but then a wheel bearing came loose which affected the brakes and I had to pit again. That put us on the back foot and under real pressure with the clock ticking down, so to salvage the starting spots that we did was something of an achievement in itself and we knew we had a lot more pace in the car.
“That gave me even more motivation for race day, and I was fully focussed on moving forwards. I got mega starts in both races, steered clear of any trouble and was able to pull off some great overtakes. Towards the end of race one, I was struggling a bit with overheating brakes, which meant I couldn’t attack the hairpins as hard as I would normally do and that allowed Paul to close in on me. We had a good battle, but he was clearly quicker and I obviously wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardise his championship chances so when he went to pass, I didn’t fight him too hard.
“Race two followed a similar theme, and again we proved we had the pace for the podium if we had only started further up the grid. The two drivers immediately ahead of me both have a lot more experience under their belts, but I learnt a lot from studying the lines they were taking, which will be useful in the future.
“Having lost so much track time earlier in the weekend, to come away with two top six finishes in a championship as tough as the Renault UK Clio Cup was just reward for everybody at WDE Motorsport after all the blood, sweat and tears. It was my most successful UK Clio Cup weekend to-date and I outscored the drivers around me in the championship table, which was our main objective.
“I really want to thank everybody that came along to support me at Snetterton. All of our guests went home with big smiles on their faces, which was great to see – and so did I. I’m in a good place right now. I’m really enjoying my racing and feeling confident every time I take to the track. I’m already counting down the days to the next event at Rockingham, because it can’t come soon enough!”