Wednesday 11th November 2014
Dan Zelos proved his pace and potential on a fast but ultimately frustrating weekend in the Ginetta Junior Winter Series at Snetterton – as pole position and a podium hat-trick sent out a warning ahead of 2015.
Snetterton is home turf for the gifted young Norfolk ace, and having been very quick there as he fought for victory back in the summer – en route to an excellent fourth spot out of 23 in the final Ginetta Junior Championship classification, during what was by any yardstick an outstanding rookie campaign – he returned in optimistic mood.
A year ago, Zelos made a low-key car racing debut in the Winter Series; fast-forward 12 months, and such has been his phenomenal progression that he is now one of the undisputed championship front-runners and a conceivable race-winner every weekend. The highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot underlined that transformation by placing his distinctive JHR Developments-run, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40 firmly on pole position in qualifying on the first day, a commanding 1.1 seconds clear of his closest rival.
An early error in race one unfortunately cost Zelos his advantage, and thereafter, he proceeded to harass the leader right the way to the chequered flag. Remaining doggedly in his quarry’s wheeltracks throughout, he flashed across the finish line less than three tenths-of-a-second adrift, valiantly setting fastest lap on the last tour to snare an extra point.
When the starting lights went out in the afternoon encounter, the driver behind missed his braking-point heading into Turn One, tagging the Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student into a spin and sending him broadside across the track. Further contact was inevitable, and the damage would affect him for the rest of the meeting.
The next day, a broken damper in qualifying left Zelos struggling for grip and an uncharacteristically lowly sixth on the 16-strong grid. An electric getaway – very much a hallmark of the East Anglian teenager’s season – elevated him immediately into the top three in the wet morning outing, and despite a mid-distance red flag, he made the most of the few laps available to snatch the runner-up spoils as his calibre and class shone through.
The same result in a safety car-disrupted afternoon race saw Zelos superbly salvage second position in the final standings – and increased his podium tally for the year to a remarkable 12.
“Given the way we had performed at Snetterton during the summer, I was excited to return – especially with some family and friends coming along to watch,” the 16-year-old reflected. “It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since I made my car racing debut here. Back then, I was happy simply to get inside the top ten. The goalposts have shifted a little bit since...
“Things looked really good after qualifying on Saturday and I got away in the lead at the start of race one, but later around the lap I didn’t slow the car down enough as I defended my line on one of the apexes, which enabled the driver behind me to gain a better exit and stick his nose up the inside into the following corner.
“I knew we were quicker, so I pushed hard to try to find a way back past and stuck solidly to his rear bumper, but there was no way through. At one stage there was maybe half an opportunity, but with three more races over the weekend, I knew consistent finishes would be crucial so it wasn’t worth risking a collision. Fastest lap proved we had the pace to win, and having learned from my mistake, I was confident we could turn the tables.
“Unfortunately, I was hit several times at the start of race two, and whilst the JHR boys worked wonders to repair my car for the next day, the issue we had in qualifying really left us on the back foot, especially with the red flag and safety car depriving us of track time and making it extremely difficult to move forward.
“Battling through to finish second in both races was the most we could have achieved in the circumstances, and to end the Winter Series as overall runner-up was definitely more than we had expected after Saturday – although obviously still less than we had been hoping for at the beginning of the weekend. We’ve got plenty of hard work ahead of us over the coming months, but we know what we need to focus on and you can be sure we’ll be doing our utmost to come out-of-the-blocks fighting in 2015!”
*The Ginetta Junior Championship enables precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their racing spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.