Dan Zelos has vowed to belatedly kick-start his bid for the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship laurels at Donington Park in a fortnight’s time, after bravely salvaging as many points as he could from a characteristically bruising Brands Hatch curtain-raiser.
Zelos travelled to the Kent circuit’s short Indy layout justifiably regarded as one of the pre-season favourites, off the back of a truly outstanding rookie campaign last year. In 2014, he clinched a superb fourth spot in the final standings of the fiercely-contested, ITV4-televised BTCC support series – the UK’s premier championship for aspiring young racers, allowing precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their motorsport spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.
He went on to reinforce that raw pace come both rain and shine behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40, before timing his challenge to absolute perfection in qualifying to snare pole position on his final effort.
Unfortunately, his fastest time was subsequently disallowed due to a minor track limits transgression after he had inadvertently dropped a wheel over the white line at Graham Hill Bend, demoting Zelos to seventh on the race one starting grid – out-of-position, back in the pack and with a lot of work to do.
Despite finding himself boxed in when the lights went out, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot nonetheless made up some early ground. He had just snuck through into fifth place when a rival turned in on him at the end of lap two, dislodging his bonnet and consigning him to restricted visibility for the remainder of the race as it flapped distractingly up-and-down. Fending off a string of pursuers and under relentless pressure from behind, he had to draw upon all of his racecraft and fighting spirit to cross the finish line ninth following a feisty and combative drive.
Race two the next day was a similarly scrappy affair. A sideswipe from another competitor at the start knocked the tracking on Zelos’ car askew, immediately compromising its performance once more. Thereafter, the 16-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student maturely switched his focus to staying out of trouble and taking advantage of errors ahead. His reward was fifth position at the chequered flag, placing him sixth in the points table and capping an opening weekend that whilst solid, was palpably not what he had been hoping for.
“Lapping fastest in FP1 was obviously a perfect start, and it was encouraging to be quick in both the wet and the dry,” reflected the East Anglian teenager. “I was annoyed with myself for the mistake in qualifying, especially with it being so difficult to overtake around the Indy Circuit and with the top ten all being so close. That left us on the back foot, because it was never going to be easy to come through the field.
“After the contact at Clearways in race one, my bonnet was bouncing up-and-down every time I braked, which curbed my pace – it’s difficult to have much confidence when you can’t really see where you’re going! That shifted my tactics from attack mode into defence, and I had to fight hard merely to retain my position with so many other drivers trying to get past – I took quite a few hits and was even edged onto the grass a couple of times, but I managed to hold on.
“Ninth place evidently wasn’t the way we had wanted to begin the season, and it also put us much further down the grid for race two than we had expected to be. The knock at the start then left me with one wheel pulling in a different direction to the other three, generating massive oversteer and making the car feel very unsettled through right-hand corners – which is most of them at Brands Indy!
“Whilst I could just about stay with the guys ahead, I wasn’t able to attack. I had to concentrate on keeping my nose clean and benefitting from other drivers’ mistakes. To finish fifth was damage limitation given that we were walking wounded again.
“Without the penalty in qualifying, it could have been an entirely different weekend – but equally, in the circumstances, it could also have been a lot worse. We put some solid points on the board, and that’s important because there look like being several different race-winners this year, which means consistency will be vital. It’s going to be a tough season, that’s for sure, with plenty of fast rookies in the field!
“We didn’t have the luck on our side at Brands, but we are definitely in the mix and we’ll come back at Donington chasing the silverware we missed out on this weekend. It’s very early days and there’s a long way to go – and I promise you we’ve got a lot more still to come! This result hasn’t affected my confidence in the slightest. We’ll go away and regroup, re-set and return fully refreshed – ready to fight another day.”