Dan Zelos claimed his first double podium finish of the 2015 Ginetta Junior Championship campaign at Oulton Park, but after being denied the opportunity to fight for victory by an ill-timed safety car intervention, he has sent out a warning to his title rivals that he is going on the attack.
Having struggled for form at Oulton last year – a rare ‘off’ weekend during the course of a truly outstanding rookie season in car racing – Zelos returned to the undulating and challenging Cheshire circuit eager to prove his potential, but problems throughout practice left him languishing unaccustomedly down the order amongst the 22 high-calibre contenders.
Once the trouble had been diagnosed, the gifted Norfolk ace was immediately back in more familiar territory up at the sharp end of the field and he proceeded to qualify his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-run Ginetta G40 fourth on the grid for race one in the fiercely-disputed 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.
In front of ITV4’s live television cameras and tens of thousands of trackside spectators, Zelos made an excellent start when the opening encounter got underway, gaining one spot by the first corner and another later around the lap as the pole-sitter unexpectedly slowed directly ahead of him entering the Knickerbrook Chicane, promoting the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot to second but also burdening him with a sizeable deficit to the leader due to the ensuing delay.
Thereafter, Zelos concentrated on consolidating his position which he did right the way to the chequered flag, although the fact that he could only set the ninth-quickest lap time – a full second shy of the outright pace – suggested that all was not quite right. That suspicion was confirmed when a subsequent investigation revealed an electrical fault on the #45 car, putting into perspective the 17-year-old’s heroics behind the wheel.
With the issue rectified, from second on the grid, another demon getaway in race two saw Zelos lead the field into Turn One, but contact from two adversaries forced him off-line and onto the grass on the run towards Cascades, dropping him to third. Rapidly shaking off the chasing pack, the Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student grittily hounded down the two leaders, and was tucked under the rear wing of his team-mate in second place and primed to pounce when the safety car appeared for an accident further down the order.
Unfortunately, due to time restrictions the action never resumed, frustrating Zelos’ charge when his lap times proved he was the fastest of the front-running trio. Still, his third rostrum finish from the last four races has unquestionably ignited the East Anglian teenager’s championship challenge as he sits third in the standings heading next to Croft in North Yorkshire, just 28 points adrift of the top of the table.
“It’s fair to say I didn’t get on that well with Oulton Park last year, but I think it’s one of those circuits that takes a little while to get fully to grips with,” he mused. “After establishing a solid set-up during pre-event testing, I was optimistic going into the weekend, but from the moment we hit the track in practice, the car felt completely different. It was very unstable on Friday, and it was only when we checked it over thoroughly that evening that we discovered the root of the problem.
“We made the necessary changes, and Saturday’s final practice session was definitely a step in the right direction. Qualifying fourth put us firmly in the ballpark for the races, and I got a good start in the first of them to move up to third straightaway. Then heading into the chicane on lap one, I was right on the rear bumper of the pole-sitter when he seemed to suddenly lose all drive, which caused him to practically stop and forced me to go all the way around the outside.
“That delayed me by more than three seconds, after which I knew I had to focus on putting in consistent lap times to pull away from the group behind. I got my head down and did just that; I pushed as hard as I could, but we didn’t have the outright pace to take the fight to the leader. We subsequently found out the car had an electrical issue and I was lucky even to make it to the end – there was a lead that was literally hanging on by a thread – so I was pleased to finish second in the circumstances.
“The JHR boys did a superb job as ever between the races, and we made some fairly significant changes to the set-up. I got another great start in race two and had pulled half-a-car-length past the pole-sitter when he steered into the side of me, which cost me my momentum and I was then tagged by somebody else heading into the first corner, putting me onto the grass and down to third.
“I quickly recovered to hunt down the top two, although I had to be a bit careful given that the driver ahead was my team-mate and with Oulton not being the easiest of circuits for overtaking, I didn’t want to risk any half-hearted attempts. I was sizing up where my best chance was and lining him up for a move when the safety car appeared – if the race hadn’t been shortened like it was, I’m pretty confident it would have been a different outcome.
“That said, I’ll certainly settle for two podiums around a circuit that wasn’t one of our strongest last year. I keep reiterating that consistency is important in this championship, and we clearly demonstrated at Oulton that we’ve got the speed to win – it’s just a question of time. I think the season is really beginning to take shape now in terms of who the title protagonists are going to be – and we’re well in the mix. Some of my best tracks are coming up next, and we have a lot more still to give.”