Zelos denied famous home victory in physical MINI CHALLENGE finale

Zelos denied famous home victory in physical MINI CHALLENGE finale

21.10.2019: • Talented Norfolk racer scoops Rookie Cup honours in season closer • 21-year-old showcases scintillating speed and racecraft at Snetterton

•    Talented Norfolk racer scoops Rookie Cup honours in season closer

•    21-year-old showcases scintillating speed and racecraft at Snetterton

•    ‘2020 starts right now’, vows standout MINI CHALLENGE newcomer

Dan Zelos was denied a popular home victory in the 2019 MINI CHALLENGE season finale at Snetterton last weekend (19/20 October), but the talented young Norfolk ace had already done enough to secure the coveted Rookie Cup and a top three championship finish in the fiercely-disputed single-make series.

Zelos headed to Snetterton – the longest circuit in the country, and one located barely 20 miles down the road from his home in Dereham – still in with a shout of overall MINI CHALLENGE honours, courtesy of three pole positions, two victories and seven further podiums behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored MINI.

Whilst he knew he was very much the outsider in the three-way title battle in the headlining JCW class, Zelos was determined to put up a fight and he briefly topped the timesheets once again in qualifying, only to miss out on the best of the conditions right at the end of the session when the damp-but-drying track surface was at its fastest.

That restricted the 21-year-old to a frustrated eighth on the grid for the opener amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists, but he immediately went on the offensive, swiftly settling into a four-way scrap for supremacy as the leading quartet made a break from the chasing pack.

Unfortunately, rear diffuser damage from the early skirmishes slightly stunted Zelos’ straight-line speed, and whilst he relentlessly applied the pressure on James ‘Jiggy’ Gornall in an effort to unseat his ultra-experienced rival from third, his performance disadvantage meant he couldn’t quite prise the door ajar. Fourth at the flag, the race’s second-best lap time – quicker than the winner – went to show what might have been had only he started further up the field.

Belying the difficulty of overtaking around Snetterton’s ‘300’ layout, with his car fully restored to tip-top condition by the MINI UK VIP team, the home hero held his nerve on the opening lap of race two the following day to scythe his way up to second. Not long after, he drew alongside the leader, but a tag sent him into a wild 360-degree spin across the grass. It was only Zelos’ supreme car control that kept him away from the barriers.

That left the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student all the way down in 18th, but he had recovered to 12th when the safety car was scrambled on lap three for an issue towards the tail of the field. Visibly on a mission, he opportunistically grabbed three more places at the re-start, with a new fastest lap hauling him up to sixth – incredibly, right in the mix for the final spot on the rostrum.

Zelos was in the process of snatching a further two positions on the penultimate tour when a tangle between the two cars he was passing pitched him off the road again – this time terminally. Thankfully, he had already built up enough of a buffer in the points table that the first non-finish of his maiden MINI CHALLENGE campaign did not depose him from third in the overall standings, and as he reflects upon the year as a whole, the highly-rated East Anglian hotshot does so with a justifiable sense of pride.

“I really wanted to finish the season with a win – especially at my home circuit in front of family and friends – and three-quarters of the way around the first lap in race two I really thought we were on for one, but sadly it wasn’t to be,” Zelos mused.

“Being truthful, we weren’t really in the title fight going into the weekend. Mathematically, it was still a possibility but realistically, I needed the other two guys to have at least one bad race each to stand any sort of chance – it was always going to be an extremely tall order, and qualifying then made that task doubly difficult. I just missed out on an extra lap at the end of the session when the chequered flag appeared, and I think that would have been the one as I had a great exit from the final chicane. That summarised the whole weekend in some respects – wrong place, wrong time.

“Maybe I should have pushed a little bit harder in qualifying, but in view of the conditions and with such a short turnaround before race one, I didn’t want to risk too much and I still managed to latch onto the back of the lead pack pretty quickly. After that, though, it was harder to make progress. The best overtaking spots at Snetterton tend to come at the end of full-throttle sections, but the damage to the diffuser meant I struggled to get close enough to Gornall to be able to launch an attack – he just had the legs on us where it counted.


“By contrast, I had a lot of fun fighting my way through in race two after being turned around – it was the first time I’d had the opportunity to do that all season and I still thought we had a good shot at coming away with a trophy until I was wiped out altogether.

“That doesn’t detract from what has been a great year overall, though. The two drivers I was battling for the title both have considerably more experience than me – ‘Jiggy’ is a former British GT champion and Nathan [Harrison] has finished second in the MINI CHALLENGE three times now – so to push them right the way to the last race in my debut campaign was hugely positive. At the end of the day, my main pre-season aim was the Rookie Cup – and we achieved that comfortably.

“After three years in Clios and minimal winter testing, I feel like I got to grips with the MINI and the championship very quickly. Big thanks to Evergreen Tyres, EXCELR8 Motorsport – who gave me a race-winning car pretty much every time we went out – and my mechanic Dan Cusick, who has been awesome all season. I don’t think we’ve had a single mechanical issue in the races, which is incredible.

“We inevitably had a bit of bad luck along the way, without which it could have been a different story but you have to take the rough with the smooth and ultimately, we’ve definitely proved we’re a force to be reckoned with. I’ve come away from 2019 having improved as a driver and with a lot more confidence in my own ability, which is something I’ve struggled with in the past.

“I’m under no illusions that the calibre in the MINI CHALLENGE is going to increase in 2020 with the move onto the British Touring Car Championship package, but make no mistake – I’m going to be stronger, too. Next season starts right now!”

Dan is seeking further partners to join him on his exciting high-speed journey. If you are interested in getting involved in life in the fast lane, please contact: dan@danzelos.com

Russell Atkins - photos Zelos

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/dan-zelos-denied-home-victory-mini-challenge-finale---199375.html

21.10.2019 / MaP

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