Dan Zelos’ early-season blues in the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship refused to leave him alone at Donington Park, but despite finding himself out-of-favour with Lady Luck once again, the gifted Norfolk ace nonetheless made the best of the situation to stay firmly in contention for the coveted crown.
After his palpable potential had been stopped in its tracks by a qualifying penalty and a couple of unruly rivals in the Brands Hatch curtain-raiser a fortnight earlier, Zelos travelled to Donington eager to belatedly rev his title bid into life. Last year, gearbox woes had consigned him to the back of the grid for both races around the Derbyshire circuit – enabling him at least to showcase his sparkling overtaking prowess. Twelve months on, he was hoping for a rather more straightforward weekend...
Following four productive practice sessions – the last of which saw him place second on the timesheets behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40 – the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot entered qualifying in bullish spirits, and in an ultra-tight battle, he wound up a scant 48 thousandths-of-a-second adrift of the top spot, with less than two tenths blanketing the leading eight competitors.
Unfortunately, being on the wrong end of that 0.048s left Zelos just fifth in the 24-strong field, ruing a delay caused by a spinning car at the worst possible moment. To rub salt into the wounds, so impressive was his consistency that his second-best lap – all of 0.005s slower – would have put the 16-year-old on pole position for race two based on the now-defunct 2014 regulations.
In Saturday’s opening encounter, Zelos featured amongst the front-runners throughout, but persistent place-swapping within the multi-car tussle blunted his progress. He flashed across the finish line sixth – less than two seconds shy of the runner-up – and lapped more than half-a-second quicker than the top four along the way in evidence of his scintillating raw speed.
The Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student subsequently lined up sixth on Sunday in 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.
An excellent start saw him gain two positions in as many laps to swiftly settle into an enthralling four-way scrap for supremacy. Just as he was poised to pounce, however, Zelos’ engine gradually lost power, dropping him away from the leaders. Doggedly hanging on, the East Anglian teenager fought valiantly to wind up fifth, preserving sixth spot in the overall classification as the championship heads next to ultra-fast Thruxton – the scene, this time last year, of his breakthrough car racing triumph.
“I was fired-up for Donington after our difficult weekend at Brands Hatch,” he reflected, “and we worked well throughout practice, always there-or-thereabouts and moving in the right direction. It was tremendously close in qualifying, and I was on-course for pole when a car spun in front of me going into the final chicane on my quickest lap and left some dust on the circuit. That caused me to drop a wheel onto the dirt, and looking at how much I ultimately missed out by, it doesn’t take much to do the maths – so near yet so far!
“Still, I went into the races in confident mood – and fully anticipating a big fight. We certainly had the pace in the first one, as the lap times proved, but I kept getting backed up into the drivers behind and dragged into battles. I also received a knock into the chicane, which cost me ground – every time an opportunity presented itself, it seemed to be a case of one step forward, two steps back! It was disappointing to finish sixth given that we were clearly fast enough to win.
“I made a good start in race two and pulled away with the leading group, but just as I was set to challenge the three ahead, I began losing power. One of the best overtaking opportunities at Donington is at the end of the long back straight, and I couldn’t get close enough to the others after that to attempt a move. I had to switch from attack mode into defence, and fifth was about as good as it was going to get in the circumstances.
“It obviously wasn’t the weekend we wanted again and it’s frustrating that these niggling little problems keep holding us back. I desperately want to be winning races and things have conspired against us so far this season, but in situations like this, it’s all about making the most of the bad days and as at Brands, we scored some very solid points and kept ourselves in the hunt – when the luck’s not on your side, that’s what you need to be doing. We’re working very hard to iron out the issues – and I can assure you there will be no let-up until we get there.”