Dan Zelos threatened the uppermost step of the podium and tallied his sixth top three finish of 2015 as the Ginetta Junior Championship sped into Silverstone, leaving him fired-up to conclude his sophomore season in the fiercely-disputed, ITV4-televised BTCC support series in style.
Having led twice at Silverstone last year during the course of a truly outstanding rookie campaign in 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 – Zelos returned to the legendary British Grand Prix venue with positive memories and a steely resolve.
The gifted Norfolk ace laid down an early marker by lapping second-quickest on the opening day amongst the 24 high-calibre contenders, although the fact that barely two tenths-of-a-second blanketed the fastest ten protagonists in the final practice session hinted at a desperate scramble for grid slots come qualifying.
So it would prove, and behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored and JHR Developments-prepared Ginetta G40, Zelos wound up sixth – a scant 0.042 seconds adrift of the front row. From there, he made an excellent start in Saturday’s outing to vault straight up to fourth and soon settled into a spectacular slipstreaming scrap for supremacy.
As a queue of cars ran nose-to-tail and concertinaed up from one corner to the next, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot found himself needing to attack and defend all at once. After stealing third position on lap four, he went on to run as high as second before being displaced by his title-chasing team-mate who he then shadowed to the chequered flag.
The following day, Zelos wasted little time in assertively muscling his way past Jamie Caroline into Maggotts and despite subsequently being shuffled down the pack, he swiftly fought back into second – artfully snatching two places for the price of one along the way. The 17-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student proceeded to pressurise Patrik Matthiesen for the lead until the safety car appeared due to an incident further down the order.
At the re-start, Zelos was brusquely elbowed aside as a number of rivals relegated him to eighth, but he had recovered as far as fifth on the last lap – still very much in with a shout of the runner-up spoils – when an ambitious lunge by Dave Wooder with two wheels on the grass sent both cars wide and left the East Anglian teenager to cross the finish line a frustrated seventh, having once more evinced sufficient speed to challenge for victory. The results leave him just two points shy of third in the drivers’ standings heading into the Brands Hatch GP season finale.
“It’s always really close at Silverstone because of the nature of the National Circuit, with a short lap made up of several long straights and not many corners,” Zelos mused. “In practice, the whole field was covered by less than a second! In qualifying, getting in the tow was vital to posting a good lap because even the slightest gain or loss of time can have a huge bearing on your grid spot when everything’s that tight. It also meant that in the races, it was very difficult to shake people off.
“We prepared well and went into qualifying knowing we were in the hunt but we didn’t put ourselves in quite the right place on the track. Still, sixth was far from a disaster and I immediately gained ground at the start of race one. I worked my way up into second, but with so many cars in the leading group it was a huge slipstreaming battle with constant side-by-side action and dicing for position and a lot of split-second decisions to be made!
“I was happy to finish third in the end. It was important to be back on the podium, it represented a good haul of points for the championship and it meant we would be in with another solid chance the next day.
“The first half of race two went really well, and by lap four I was lining up Matthiesen for the lead. We had broken the tow to the others, but then the safety car bunched us all up again and not long after the re-start, all hell let loose and I was bundled down towards the bottom of the top ten! The order yo-yoed from corner-to-corner and in that kind of situation, if you get overtaken and lose momentum, you don’t concede just one place because a whole host of cars come drafting past.
“Wooder’s move at the end then cost us both as it left me with nowhere to go. Although it was obviously disappointing to finish seventh when we had run much further up, in the circumstances it was almost a relief to get a finish at all and I can’t deny it was a very enjoyable race. Who knows, if it hadn’t been for the safety car, it might have been a totally different outcome...
“It’s hard to believe Brands Hatch will be my final weekend in Ginetta Juniors – it seems like only yesterday I was nervously making my debut. It’s been a great two years with a lot of highs and inevitably also some lows, and hopefully it will lead on to even bigger and better things in the future. In the meantime, though, let’s see if we can sign off with one last high...”