Brilliant Zelos breaks through at Brands with maiden MINI victory - seeking for partners

Brilliant Zelos breaks through at Brands with maiden MINI victory - seeking for partners

05.08.2019: • Talented Norfolk ace sprints to long-overdue first MINI CHALLENGE success • MINI UK VIP star is class of the field around c

•    Talented Norfolk ace sprints to long-overdue first MINI CHALLENGE success

•    MINI UK VIP star is class of the field around challenging former F1 circuit

•    21-year-old charges through pack in race two to complete bumper points haul

It had, he acknowledged, been a long time coming, but Dan Zelos finally achieved his breakthrough MINI CHALLENGE victory in dominant fashion at Brands Hatch last weekend (3/4 August), seeing him narrow the gap to the top of the championship table as the business end of the season speeds into view.

Having tallied seven podiums from 11 starts heading to Brands, Zelos has been the most consistent of all the front-runners in the MINI CHALLENGE this year – his maiden campaign in the fiercely-disputed series, which travels the country in support of the high-profile British GT Championship.

The talented young Norfolk ace arrived boasting a similarly impressive track record around the legendary ‘GP’ circuit, with multiple rostrum finishes to his name there in both the Renault UK Clio Cup and Ginetta Junior Championship.

Zelos duly carried that form over into qualifying, producing a superb lap to snare the top spot on the starting grid ahead of team-mate – and championship leader – Nathan Harrison, as the MINI UK VIP pair proved to be almost three-quarters-of-a-second faster than the rest of the high-calibre, 26-strong field. The result marked the East Anglian racer’s third pole position out of six in 2019 – an astonishing 50 per cent strike rate – and his second in swift succession.

When the lights went out in the opening contest, Zelos sprinted into an immediate lead, as he and Harrison completed the first lap a staggering 3.4 seconds clear of the chasing pack. Rapidly getting the hammer down as he routinely pumped in purple sector times, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot had stretched his margin over Harrison to almost 1.8 seconds when the safety car was summoned on lap five for an accident down the order, wiping out his hard-earned advantage.

Not long after the re-start and with Harrison now glued firmly to his tail, Zelos briefly lost the back end of his MINI over the bump into Paddock Hill Bend, allowing his pursuer past, but a red flag for another incident saw the result counted back a lap, meaning the 21-year-old deservedly claimed an overdue maiden success in the MINI CHALLENGE’s headlining JCW class.

Not only that, but a scintillating fastest lap more than four tenths-of-a-second better than anybody else could muster – an eternity in a single-make series – cemented a maximum points haul and extended his lead in the Rookie Cup rankings.

Subsequently pulling tenth position out of the bag for the partially-reversed race two grid, Zelos knew he had his work cut out, but a handful of gutsy passes saw him into the top six by lap seven behind the wheel of his distinctive Evergreen Tyres, CAM Systems and Aligned Detailing-sponsored MINI.

Circulating almost a full second quicker than any of his rivals at times – despite grappling with an intermittent loss of power – he reduced a five-second deficit to the lead to next-to-nothing going onto the last lap and flashed past the chequered flag in fourth, barely half-a-second shy of extending his stellar run of seven consecutive podium finishes.

Confirming his status as the weekend’s highest scorer, the results enabled Zelos to close in on second place in the overall championship standings heading next to Donington Park on 14/15 September – and he has no intention of easing off the gas...

“They always say the first victory is the hardest, and whilst it obviously wasn’t the way I wanted to take it, the fact is that Nathan wouldn’t even have been close to me without the safety car intervention – plus, after several occasions where we arguably should have won but didn’t due to bad luck, I think we deserved this one!” reflected the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student.

“Testing on Friday allowed me to get my head round the GP track in the MINI, but I didn’t feel fully in sync with the car for the first time this season – the rear end was bouncing around quite a lot, and it was pretty unsettled in places. Saying that, our lap times were still strong so we went into qualifying in optimistic mood.

“I don’t think my pole lap was necessarily my cleanest run, but it was still good enough and it was encouraging to see how much of a margin myself and Nathan had over the rest of the field. It was probably my most satisfying pole yet – it means more around the GP loop as it’s one of the toughest tracks we race on all year. It demands 100 per cent commitment and rewards bravery, and you really don’t want to put a wheel wrong out the back of the circuit!

“I got away well in race one and immediately got my head down, and myself and Nathan both quickly pulled away from the pack. I was in full-on ‘qualifying’ mode – really on-the-edge through the faster sections, with a few heart-stopping moments along the way – and once I had established a solid advantage, I set about maintaining it and just controlling the pace.

“The safety car then obviously halted my stride, bunching everybody right up and meaning I would have to do it all over again. It seemed like Nathan got a second wind after the re-start and he was right on my case, and going into Paddock Hill Bend next time round, I think I must have caught the bump in the braking zone at just the wrong angle and it sent me out wide, which allowed him through.

“I was annoyed with myself because I really shouldn’t be making mistakes like that now, but the gods must have been looking down on me with the red flag – although I’m confident we had the pace to get back past Nathan anyway.

“I clearly need to win more races to get more practice at picking out reverse grid positions, because tenth was the worst I could have chosen for race two! I then got boxed in early on and was a little bit wary around drivers I didn’t have that much experience of racing against, which stunted my initial progress, but I focussed on picking them off one-by-one.

“Unfortunately, from lap three onwards, we developed a fuel surge problem in the engine, which caused a momentary loss of power through the fifth-gear Sheene Curve – I would work hard to catch the guys ahead around the rest of the lap, but then lose everything I had gained in just that one corner, which was hugely frustrating. Without that, we could definitely have pushed for the podium again and taken another fastest lap.

“Still, to gain six positions in such a competitive single-make series was a satisfying outcome, and overall it was another excellent points haul. We need to continue closing the gap in the championship to see if we can make a real fight of this, and hopefully the top two will trip up at some stage. And ultimately, now I’ve finally got that first win under my belt, I’ve really developed a taste for it...”

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


05.08.2019 / MaP

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