Dan Zelos wows Festival crowd with pole position, podium hat-trick and fastest lap

Dan Zelos wows Festival crowd with pole position, podium hat-trick and fastest lap

24.07.2019: • Norfolk racer excels in prestigious MINI CHALLENGE showpiece event • MINI UK VIP star extends superb recent record with top three trio • 21-year-old stuns spectators with

•    Norfolk racer excels in prestigious MINI CHALLENGE showpiece event

•    MINI UK VIP star extends superb recent record with top three trio

•    21-year-old stuns spectators with spectacular round-the-outside passes

The best performers invariably save their finest shows for the biggest occasions, and Dan Zelos certainly picked the right time to shine last weekend as he sped to pole position, a hat-trick of podium finishes and fastest lap at Brands Hatch’s blue riband MINI Festival (20/21 July).

Zelos might be in his maiden campaign in the UK-wide MINI CHALLENGE, but the talented young Norfolk ace has wasted no time at all in establishing himself as one of its leading protagonists and a bona fide title contender. In qualifying around Brands’ short Indy circuit, he duly snatched his second pole position of the season in the headlining JCW class, setting two laps quick enough for the top spot on the starting grid after making a judiciously-timed switch to scrubbed wet-weather tyres in constantly changing conditions.

In the high-calibre, 28-strong field, Zelos got the jump when the lights went out in race one, but a slight twitch exiting Paddock Hill Bend for the first time cost him momentum and with it, a couple of places. After settling into an epic slipstreaming scrap for supremacy – with the top eight blanketed by barely the blink of an eye – the MINI UK VIP star opportunistically retrieved second before relentlessly hounding ex-British GT champion James ‘Jiggy’ Gornall for the lead.

Unfortunately, yellow flags late on for stranded cars at Surtees and Clearways removed one of Zelos’ prime overtaking opportunities and – ultimately – brought out the chequered flag two laps early. With comfortably the race’s fastest lap to his credit, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot wound up less than a third-of-a-second shy of his maiden MINI CHALLENGE victory as he lifted the rookie laurels once again.

Immediately going on the attack in race two, Zelos pulled alongside Gornall on the run up to Druids hairpin on the opening lap, briefly nosing ahead before finding himself pushed into a slide by the pole-sitter and down to fifth. After rapidly regaining fourth, his prodigious pace behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored MINI hauled him swiftly onto the tail of the top three.

An enthralling duel for third with Ben Palmer was finally resolved when the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student produced a stunning pass to sweep right the way around the outside of his chief Rookie Cup competitor. With the bit well-and-truly between his teeth, he subsequently set about chasing down Gornall in second, posting a flurry of fastest laps – the three quickest of the race, including the best of the weekend outright – to flash past the chequered flag right on his rival’s boot lid.

>From fourth on the partially-reversed grid in race three, Zelos initially held position before pulling off a peach of a move to pinch third from Gornall around the outside of Druids. Thereafter, he focussed on hassling team-mate Rory Cuff as part of a seven-car train for second, while remaining mindful that any mistakes or failed overtaking attempts would likely be heavily punished by his pursuers.

Managing the balancing act to perfection, third place represented the 21-year-old East Anglian’s sixth podium finish in succession and ninth from 14 starts in the fiercely-disputed single-make series, maintaining his stellar record of reaching the rostrum in every event he has entered. What’s more, the bumper points haul consolidated Zelos’ third position in the championship table ahead of the MINI CHALLENGE’s return to Brands Hatch for round six of the 2019 JCW campaign on 3/4 August, when he will tackle the Kent circuit’s legendary GP layout.

“I am kicking myself a little bit that we didn’t quite get that first victory,” he reflected, “but (two-time British Touring Car Championship Independents’ title-holder) Tom Ingram gave me some words of encouragement at the end of the weekend. He told me that you don’t always need to win races to win championships, and that consistency is just as important if not actually more so – and in that respect, we came away from Brands with three very strong results.

“We were quick from the get-go, but on a damp track in qualifying, the car didn’t initially feel right on fresh wet tyres – I just didn’t have the bite on the front and it felt a bit vague. When the session was red-flagged midway through and the sun came out and began to dry the circuit, we took a bold call and opted to bolt on a scrubbed set, which really paid off. The change transformed the handling and gave me much more traction – I could brake later and get on the throttle earlier, and that was reflected in the lap times.

“At the start of race one, I thought I had managed to stop the car well on the apex of Paddock Hill Bend, but the rear end just stepped out slightly on the exit. I caught it, but the delay allowed Gornall to get his nose up the inside and Palmer took advantage too. After that, it was a real battle!

“I was struggling a bit with understeer, which meant I couldn’t attack in the places I wanted to but I fought back through to second. I was definitely quicker than James and kept him under constant pressure, but he has a lot of experience and was defending quite assertively – each time I had a look, he would shut the door and edge me onto the grass, and with two more races to go, it simply wasn’t worth risking an accident that might have ruined the rest of my weekend.

“Race two was a similar story in some ways, with the contact on the opening lap leaving me with work to do. Ben [Palmer] certainly made my life difficult; he defended well, which halted my charge somewhat and he made it pretty clear that there was no space on the inside, so I decided I was going to have to go the long way round and keep my foot planted. Thankfully, he gave me racing room – we have a lot of respect for each other and it was a fun fight.

“After that, I could see ‘Jiggy’ was making mistakes as I homed in – I thought, ‘we’ve got the pace; this isn’t over yet’ –  and with a couple more laps I could really have given him something to worry about. Like in race one, we just needed a bit more time, but third was still another very good result.

“My start in race three was compromised by oil on my side of the track, which allowed ‘Jiggy’ to draft past. I knew I needed to despatch him quickly, and given what had happened earlier in the day, it was immensely satisfying to get him around the outside at Druids and proved I’m not afraid of anyone. Rory was a tougher nut to crack, and being my team-mate, I was never going to try anything silly.

“At this stage of the season, you have to think with a championship head on, and third place helped me to close the gap to my two main title rivals. Let’s see if we can do the same again when we return to Brands in a week-and-a-half’s time...”


Russell Atkins - photos Ebrey


24.07.2019 / MaP

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