Zelos focussed on Thruxton fightback after pace goes unrewarded at Donington

Zelos focussed on Thruxton fightback after pace goes unrewarded at Donington

01.05.2018: • Norfolk racer out-of-luck at Donington despite strong turn-of-speed • WDE Motorsport ace denied strong results by over-attentive rivals • 19-year-old aiming to battle

•    Norfolk racer out-of-luck at Donington despite strong turn-of-speed

•    WDE Motorsport ace denied strong results by over-attentive rivals

•    19-year-old aiming to battle back when series speeds into Thruxton

Dan Zelos is determined to kick-start his 2018 Renault UK Clio Cup campaign at his favourite circuit of Thruxton later this month, after ill-fortune again conspired to deny the talented young Norfolk ace the results his pace deserved in the second outing of the season at Donington Park last weekend (28/29 April).

Having had to battle back from persistent gearbox issues in the Brands Hatch curtain-raiser three weeks earlier, Zelos was hopeful of better luck at Donington. A productive practice day – yielding 47 laps and the sixth-fastest time in both sessions, less than three tenths-of-a-second adrift of the outright benchmark behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio – suggested he was on the right track.

That was, at least, until the weather threw a curve ball, with mixed conditions in qualifying leading to a tyre choice lottery. Languishing well down the order in 16th place amongst the 19 high-calibre protagonists, the East Anglian teenager rejoined the fray in the closing moments for one final, last-ditch attempt. With the pressure on, he delivered an error-free lap to vault up the order into seventh – best-placed of the WDE Motorsport quintet.

He was also the quickest of the drivers running on wet rubber, but with only enough time to complete one ‘flyer’ before the clock hit zero, Zelos would have to begin race two – based on second-fastest laps – from an uncharacteristically lowly 15th in the single-make, British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) feeder series.

In front of the ITV4 television cameras and a capacity trackside crowd, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot steered clear of trouble around the course of a chaotic opening lap the next morning to gain a spot to sixth, and following a short safety car intervention to deal with the debris, he immediately set about sizing up the driver ahead in fifth.

With difficulty in bringing his tyres up to temperature, however, Zelos soon found himself having to look in his mirrors as he came under attack. Slipping to seventh, for lap after lap, he carefully made his Clio as wide as possible to prevent championship leader Max Coates from getting by.

It was an excellent defensive effort, and his dogged persistence was rewarded when his tyres truly came ‘into the window’ with five laps to go and he began to hunt down Zak Fulk in sixth.

Pulling off an eye-catching round-the-outside pass into Redgate Corner, the 19-year-old had the move made when his rival tagged him and sent him spearing off-track, through the gravel trap and down to 12th, which was where he ultimately finished. A better fastest lap time than four of the top five at the chequered flag proved his potential and went to show what might have been.

It was a similar story in race two later the same day. Heading into the first corner, Zelos was unceremoniously punted sideways and sent half-spinning onto the grass, needing to call upon all of his superb car control to rescue the situation – although the delay dropped him to the tail of the field, six seconds behind the pack.

Lapping a full eight tenths-of-a-second quicker than the leader next time around – and remaining consistently one of the fastest drivers on the circuit – the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate dug deep and fought his way back through to 12th by the end, less than a second adrift of the top ten in a magnificent recovery charge.

Whilst understandably disappointed, Zelos has already turned his attentions towards the next stop on the fiercely-disputed Renault UK Clio Cup calendar at Thruxton (19/20 May), a track that has always been a happy hunting ground for him and the scene of his breakthrough car racing victory in only his ninth start four years ago.

The former Dereham Sixth Form College student has qualified inside the top six every time he has competed there – most recently snaring a brace of front row spots last year – and has tallied five top five finishes out of eight, including a trio of podiums. He is also the current circuit lap record-holder in Clios, averaging in excess of 100mph around Thruxton’s flat-out sweepers in 2017. Little wonder he is so keen to return...

“Our Donington Park weekend started off with promise in free practice, and while we still had some work to do, I was generally a lot happier than I had been at Brands Hatch and felt like we were progressing in the right direction,” Zelos reflected.

“Unfortunately, what happened in qualifying left us firmly on the back foot. The track was extremely damp initially, but when I came in to change over to a new set of wet tyres, it began drying out.

 That prompted a switch to slicks, but we really struggled to generate any heat in the rears so we came in again to bolt wets back on. By then, I only had enough time left for one shot and whilst we managed to salvage a semi-decent starting position for race one, it really hurt us for race two.

“We had similar trouble with the tyres on Sunday morning, which was probably due to an error with the pressures. When they finally came on midway through, I was able to push a lot harder and take the fight to the guys ahead and in clear air, we set some really fast lap times.

 I pulled off a great move around the outside of Fulk for sixth, but he drove straight into the side of me and whilst he received a verbal warning for it, that obviously didn’t give me the result back.

“Then in race two, the clutch wouldn’t engage properly at the start and the revs kept dropping to zero, which compromised my launch away from the grid. I was trying to recover going into Redgate for the first time when I just got ploughed into again.

My car snapped one way and then the other. Fortunately, I was able to get it back pointing the right way and we had good speed after that, but I was so far behind that it was never going to make much of a difference. I had a couple of good battles at the end, but narrowly ran out of time to crack the top ten.

“On the positive side, our race pace was strong again but as a team, we have to get on top of our qualifying issues because when you start further back in the pack, you are instantly vulnerable as was proved at Donington – I honestly felt like I had a target painted on my car!

“When we resolve the problem, we know we can push for podiums if not better but we really need to nail it quickly. I’m excited to be going to Thruxton next; it’s a circuit that I love and one I immediately ‘clicked’ with – a real drivers’ track and proper old-school challenge, where you are genuinely on-the-edge all the way round the lap.

Mental concentration and physical fitness are key factors there, and I’ve been working hard with my personal trainer Paul Suggitt in both areas to ensure I’m absolutely on top form. Hopefully those efforts will pay off...”

Russell Atkins - photos Jakob Ebrey

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/dan-zelols-thruxton-fightback-donington---175502.html

01.05.2018 / MaP

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