Double Knockhill podium vaults Dan Zelos to within two points of championship lead

Double Knockhill podium vaults Dan Zelos to within two points of championship lead

01.09.2020: • Talented East Anglian ace endorses title credentials north of the border • Podium double for new EXCELR8 Motorsport BTCC Development Driver • BRDC Rising Star opens up commanding advantage in Graduate Class

•    Talented East Anglian ace endorses title credentials north of the border

•    Podium double for new EXCELR8 Motorsport BTCC Development Driver

•    BRDC Rising Star opens up commanding advantage in Graduate Class

Dan Zelos has closed to within just two points of the championship lead in the fiercely-contested MINI CHALLENGE, after battling his way to a brace of hard-fought podium finishes at Knockhill on the same weekend that he was unveiled as the first member of EXCELR8 Motorsport’s new British Touring Car Championship Driver Development Academy.

Despite lacking seat time around the tight-and-twisty, undulating Fife circuit – having not driven there since 2015 – the talented young Norfolk ace was on the leading pace from the outset in qualifying. After topping the timesheets for a while behind the wheel of his distinctive, Davanti Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored MINI, Zelos ultimately wound up fourth amongst the 28 high-calibre protagonists in the headlining JCW class – less than five hundredths-of-a-second shy of pole position and a scant eight thousandths away from the front row of the grid.

The British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star found himself caught out by dirt off-line at the start of race one, which dropped him to seventh, but he quickly set about regaining ground and was soon back up to fifth, right in the mix for the rostrum. Unfortunately, after twice being edged onto the grass, he was then tagged from behind at the hairpin, with the combined contact relegating him to a disappointed eighth in the final reckoning.

Channelling that frustration, Zelos immediately went on the attack in race two. After grabbing one place off the line, he settled into a multi-car scrap for second and by mid-distance, he had worked his way up to fourth. The 22-year-old subsequently pressurised Ant Whorton-Eales into a mistake to pinch third, and thereafter hassled Jack Davidson all the way to the chequered flag, rarely more than half-a-second adrift of the local specialist in a characteristically fast and feisty performance that yielded his second podium finish of the 2020 campaign.

From seventh on the partially reversed grid for Sunday’s finale – and in front of the live ITV2 television cameras – Zelos placed his car perfectly through the opening corners to steal sixth position before producing a superb pass to snatch fifth next time around. By lap ten, he was fourth following another peach of an overtaking move, after which, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot swiftly joined the duel for second.

Leaving his braking as late as he dared into the hairpin, he very nearly got two for the price of one with a hugely ballsy move around the outside, only to find himself pushed onto the gravel on the exit, demoting him to fifth. Undeterred, Zelos rapidly regrouped and went on to hunt down and overhaul Scottish duo Ronan Pearson and Robbie Dalgleish in quick succession to seal back-to-back rostrums and his third Graduate Class triumph of the season.

The result elevated the reigning MINI CHALLENGE ‘Rookie Cup’ Champion from fourth to second in the overall standings, narrowing the deficit to the top of the table from 21 points to just two as he continues to spearhead the EXCELR8 Motorsport charge in the single-make BTCC support series. Moreover, Zelos now holds a commanding 46-point advantage in the Graduate Class, and next up in four weeks’ time (26/27 September), it’s Silverstone – a circuit at which he has invariably shone.

“I actually surprised myself with how fast we were out-of-the-box,” reflected the former Norwich University of Arts and Dereham Sixth Form College student. “Both free practice sessions were punctuated by lots of red flags, which made it impossible to settle into a rhythm – and with a lot of the other drivers having tested there during the week before, that was obviously far from ideal. The delays ate into our race preparation time and made it very difficult to establish a set-up, and if I’m being honest, I felt pretty unprepared going into qualifying.

“The car felt really good, though, and if I’d managed to hook each of my quickest sectors together – always a challenge at Knockhill with so much traffic on-track – I’d have been on pole position, which was a real confidence boost. Unfortunately, I got held up at the final hairpin on my best lap, which killed my momentum up the start/finish straight, but fourth still put me ahead of all my main title rivals.

“I got a good launch off the line in race one, but I couldn’t get across to the inside and going through the first corner, it was very dusty on the outside, which sent me on a little detour down an escape road and across the grass. That was then compounded by the fact that our tyre pressures were a little bit too high for the track temperature, which overheated the fronts and in a front wheel-drive car, that’s the last thing you want!

“I also had a couple of side-by-side impacts with Whorton-Eales, who defended really hard, and I got hit at the hairpin by Jason Lockwood when he out-braked himself. The car came home looking quite battered and bruised after all that, but we still took away a top eight finish, which represented valuable points.

“We made some set-up changes ahead of race two, which completely transformed my MINI and I was able to pick people off one by one and capitalise upon other drivers’ errors. I could perhaps have taken a shot at Davidson towards the end, but overtaking at Knockhill carries an extra element of risk compared to most circuits and with the championship on my mind and all my key competitors behind me, it would have been foolish to potentially throw away a safe third place.

“I knew it would be important to keep a cool head in race three and seize opportunities when they presented themselves, but my move for second unfortunately didn’t quite come off; I was able to brake a lot later around the outside of the hairpin and had just nosed in front on the exit when I received a big shove from the side, which put me onto the gravel. That meant I had to do it all over again, but I tried a different approach and to take another podium was great.

“We left Knockhill in a very strong position in the championship, and now we go to three tracks I have much more experience of. I’ve always been quick at Silverstone – in Ginetta Juniors, Clios and MINIs – so hopefully I can pull a few old tricks out from up my sleeve and really make that experience count.”

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:


Russell Atkins - photos Jakob Ebrey


01.09.2020 / MaP

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