FIRST WIN OF 2017 FOR ROB SMITH AT BRANDS HATCH MINI FESTIVAL
Tuesday 25 July 2017
Rob Smith made a very welcome, and long overdue, return to the top step of the MINI Challenge podium at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 8th/9th July, with a sensational lights-to-flag performance in the first of the event’s three races at the Kent venue.
Forming part of the annual MINI Festival at Brands Hatch, the fifth event of the MINI Challenge season started superbly for the Crewe-based driver with pole position in qualifying and he went on to soak up every last bit of pressure in a tightly contested round 10 to claim a superb victory.
Justifiably ecstatic to secure his maiden 2017 victory, and first win since the 2015 season, the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR-backed racer said he’s thrilled to have finally got the monkey off his back and return to the top step of the podium – his fifth rostrum finish of the year.
“I got a mega start, pulled quite a gap on Brett [Smith] and thought job done!”, said Rob after the race, “Obviously not, though, as there was huge pressure for almost the entire race, I think we underestimated how the temperatures had gone up. The monkey on my back was getting bigger and bigger, so it's fantastic to get my first win of the year – the first since 2015.”
Smith’s weekend began brilliantly with pole position for the first of the event’s three races, a lap of 52.174 seconds (83.34mph) securing the top spot for the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver in a session which was interrupted by two separate red flag stoppages.
While the pole slot at Brands Hatch isn’t necessarily always the best place to begin a race at Brands Hatch due to an incline on the grid, Smith made a terrific start and opened a gap of 0.6 seconds on the first lap over namesake Brett Smith.
Thereafter, though, Rob had to soak up immense pressure. With never more than half a second between them throughout the 23-lap encounter, the gap was more often than not just a couple of tenths of a second. Driving faultlessly and never putting a wheel wrong, Smith had an answer to every bit of pressure his rival applied to convert his second pole position of the year into victory.
Smith robbed of back-to-back wins after being tapped out of Rd11 lead
Starting round 11 from pole position, by way of his opening race victory, Smith made a fantastic start and an excellent opening lap enabled him to build a huge lead of 1.6 seconds. Maintaining a similar advantage into lap three, the pursuing Brett Smith did begin to reduce the gap before the Safety Car was deployed on lap seven.
Rob had it all to do again at the re-start and the action got back underway on lap 10. No sooner had racing resumed, though, the Safety Car was required again as a result of another car off at Paddock Hill Bend – the scene of the initial incident.
With less than five minutes on the clock, race two got back underway on lap 15 and the two Smiths were separated by just 0.2 seconds over the line. As during race one on Saturday, Rob had to soak up the immense pressure but he didn’t put a wheel wrong.
Holding his line into Paddock Hill Bend on lap 18, and with everything seemingly in control, contact to the rear of his Evergreen Tyres-liveried MINI from Brett Smith pitched the leader off the circuit and into the barriers resulting in an immediate red flag stoppage and robbing him of a potential win.
“Brett did get a better run out of Clearways but I held the line and sat on the apex at Paddock, keeping it tight – I thought it was pretty clear there wasn’t a chance to pass”, said Rob, “Then I got hit up the back and with the car so loaded at that corner, it just spat me off into the barriers. It was a real missed opportunity as, after Saturday’s win, we were third on drop scores and close to second.”
As a result of the enforced non-finish, Rob had to line-up for round 12 a long way down the order in 21st position. With overtaking at the Indy Circuit always at a premium, his task was far from enviable to try and undo as much damage as possible in championship terms.
Putting together a stunning opening lap, Smith carved his way through into the top 12 before the Safety Car was set to be deployed in time for the start of lap two. Racing resumed quicker than expected and Smith rapidly climbed into the top 10 before trading ninth position. Back into 10th into the final lap, a late puncture for Neil Newstead enabled Smith to re-take ninth before the finish.
“The team were incredible after race two, they got the car repaired from the bulkhead forward in only 45 minutes and prepared to a good standard – I don’t know many other teams that could have done that”, Smith added, “Taking ninth from 21st on the grid was a good result, especially on the Indy Circuit. Our championship has taken a big hit, but there are still six races to go.”
Brands Hatch will also be the venue for the sixth event of the MINI Challenge season four weeks from now, over the weekend 5th/6th August, albeit on the full length Grand Prix Circuit when the series rejoins the support package to the British GT Championship.
Zelos showcases overtaking prowess to fight through the field at Croft
Wednesday 14 June 2017
- Norfolk teenager battles back from low-key qualifying session
- WDE Motorsport star races well come rain and shine
- 19-year-old targeting maiden rostrum when season resumes
Zelos led the WDE Motorsport charge throughout practice at the North Yorkshire circuit, winding up ninth-quickest amongst the 20 high-calibre contenders behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car – and optimistic that there was more time to be found the following day.
Unfortunately, qualifying would not live up to expectations. As the heavens opened with a vengeance, the 19-year-old uncharacteristically struggled for speed, managing just 15th and 12thon the grid for the two races in the fiercely-disputed, single-make British Touring Car Championship feeder series.
For a driver who had been the championship’s third-best qualifier over the first three outings, it was unaccustomed territory indeed but Zelos was determined to move forward and the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot made impressive early progress in Saturday’s rain-plagued contest, only to then tumble down the order again when an ambitious overtaking attempt failed to come off.
Undefeated, he immediately set about regaining lost ground and had recovered to 12th when he found himself caught out by a rival’s error, dropping him down the field to 16th. Following a late safety car period, a final dash saw Zelos salvage 13th position at the chequered flag.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras the next day, the East Anglian teenager made a promising start to race two and artfully navigated his way past a spinning car broadside across the track on lap one to advance to eighth. Thereafter, he settled into a multi-car battle over fourth, posting several fastest sector times in evidence of his potential and mastering occasionally drizzly conditions on slick tyres to tally a seventh-place finish.
The result consolidated Zelos’ eighth spot in the championship standings, and the fourth-quickest lap overall – barely a tenth-of-a-second adrift of the race-winner – hinted at what would likely have been possible had only he started further up the grid. That, he reveals, will be the key focus during the seven-week summer break now before the action resumes on his home turf at Snetterton at the end of July – alongside a little well-deserved R&R, of course.
“It’s fair to say Croft was a mixed weekend,” reflected the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “We were there-or-thereabouts in practice, but as a team, we seemed to lose a little bit of speed in qualifying compared to our main rivals – we just lacked that edge when it came to single-lap pace.
“I’ve not had much running in the wet in the Clio either, which perhaps explains why I struggled a bit more than my team-mates in those conditions – I’ve generally been quicker than them in qualifying recently, but I didn’t have the same confidence to push as they did this time. We could also only afford to run two new tyres when a lot of other drivers used six. Starting position is so important when the championship is as competitive as it is at the moment, so being lower down the grid really left us on the back foot.
“Race one was a real yo-yo affair. I kept out-of-trouble at the start and moved up into the top ten, but then I tried to pull off a hero move around the outside of somebody and just ran out of road. That put me onto the grass and I rejoined the circuit sideways! It was very nearly a big accident and it cost me a lot of ground, but I was coming back through again when I encountered a second setback.
“It was difficult to see through all the spray, so in some parts of the lap I was using the car ahead as a reference and when he braked, I braked – and the next thing I knew, we were both skating off into a cornfield because he must have missed his braking-point! I was a bit annoyed at myself for that, but I never gave up and kept on attacking and I was told afterwards that I had made the most overtakes in the race, which was good to know – even if I did only finish two places ahead of where I had started!
“I had to take avoiding action at the beginning of race two when Sam Randon spun across the track – it got fairly wild, with cars scattering this way and that – but we emerged unscathed and actually came out of it pretty well. After that, though, it was all a bit follow-my-leader, and with it being my team-mate directly ahead of me, I was slightly more circumspect than I would otherwise have been.
“Seventh was a very solid result in the circumstances, albeit frustrating at the same time because we clearly had the speed to fight for the top three but just started too far back – it took us nearly the whole weekend to get properly onto the pace. We need to get our qualifying act together because it’s turning into a bit of an Achilles’ heel – so that will be our major priority over the summer break.
“It’s my home circuit next on the calendar, which is where I registered my best finish of 2016 in Clios, so while it will obviously be nice to have some time off after such a quick-fire start to the season, I’m already itching to get back on-track – and to keep pushing for that elusive first podium!”
'Phenomenal' Zelos speeds to new lap record around Britain's fastest circuit
Wednesday 10 May 2017
- Talented Norfolk teenager underscores credentials again in Renault UK Clio Cup
- Two front row starts and a new lap record leave no doubts over raw speed
- WDE Motorsport boss thrilled with 18-year-old’s form – says best is yet to come
Having already turned heads with his first car racing pole position three weeks earlier at Donington Park – and buoyed by a consistently strong showing in the pre-Thruxton test, in which he had lapped third-quickest amongst the 22 high-calibre protagonists behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio – Zelos wasted no time at all in confirming his burgeoning momentum by snaring second place on the grid for both races.
The talented Norfolk ace was only kept away from the top spot by ex-Clio Cup champion and Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) competitor Mike Bushell, with three front row appearances to-date making him the fiercely-disputed single-make series’ third-best qualifier of 2017.
Unfortunately, the location of the five-second board contributed to a tardy getaway in race one, dropping Zelos well down the field. Refusing to be beaten, he immediately set about responding and boldly regained a clutch of positions at the Complex on the opening tour. The highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot subsequently snatched fifth from Nathan Harrison and attacked Jack McCarthy for fourth on lap two, only to find himself pitched into a half-spin by his rival that required all of his impressive car control to rescue.
The delay dropped Zelos to the back of the slipstreaming pack disputing fourth place, but he bravely overtook two of his adversaries in one fell swoop around the outside of Church – the fastest and most fearsome corner in the country – and snuck past former championship runner-up Ash Hand into Allard to recover to tenth by the chequered flag. Whilst that was scant reward for a feisty and aggressive drive, the 18-year-old had certainly made observers sit up and take notice.
After a multi-car accident prompted an early red flag, race two re-started over a significantly reduced six-lap distance. A wheelspin-afflicted launch again saw Zelos concede ground, but once more, he swiftly began making amends and – in front of the live ITV4 television cameras – he had grittily fought his way back up to fifth by the end of lap one.
A new lap record – his first in Clios – then saw him reduce the deficit to his two ultra-experienced WDE Motorsport team-mates ahead to barely half-a-second, but the East Anglian teenager just ran out of time to mount a challenge for the rostrum.
Nonetheless, Zelos’ superb racecraft and indomitable spirit enabled him to maintain sixth position in the championship standings following five top ten results from the first six races – and with the Clio Cup resuming at Oulton Park later this month, he is brimful of confidence and fired-up to convert his clear promise into podium finishes.
“I love Thruxton,” enthused the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “It’s my favourite circuit on the calendar and such a tremendous challenge – on-the-edge the whole way round the lap, with an average speed of over 100mph and taking Church flat-out is an incredible buzz. It’s also where I won my first car race three years ago, and I returned there on a real high after going so well at Donington, which is somewhere that I’ve often seemed to struggle in the past.
“The test day had been really positive too, so I felt good going into qualifying and was able to post a series of consistently quick laps. I knew there was still a bit more time to find, so that’s what we focussed on unlocking and the team gave me a fantastic car for the races.
“In race one, I couldn’t see the five-second board as it was directly alongside my grid slot, so when the red lights came on and almost instantly went out again, I was caught off-guard. I was rapidly regaining ground when I went up the inside of McCarthy going into the first right-hander at the Complex, but he understeered into me as he took the left-hander that followed. All it takes in a front wheel-drive car is a little nudge, and I was tipped into a slide and a spin. People told me afterwards that I was sideways for half-a-second, but inside the car it felt like half-an-hour! I was out on the marbles and really thought I was going round, but somehow I managed to save it.
“After that, it was very much a case of one step forward, one step back with the slipstreaming effect at Thruxton – although I must admit that I was pretty happy with the move I pulled around the outside at Church. I could see the two drivers ahead were both defending the inside line, so I just let my car drift out wide and used the momentum to sweep past.
“The start of race two followed a similar pattern, although this time the field spread out much more so there was less scope to recover positions. Still, that meant I could get my head down and really see how fast I could go, and I managed to close the gap to my two team-mates. It was just a shame that the revised distance was so short as I was really enjoying myself out there, and whilst tenth and fifth places obviously weren’t the results we had been aiming for after starting on the front row, there were plenty of positives to take away from the weekend.
“We’ve definitely got the pace in qualifying and I’ve shown that I can race well and overtake, so the final piece of the puzzle now is the starts. Once I get the first 20 feet of the race right too, it will be a different story altogether and there’s no reason at all why we can’t go out there and push for podium finishes every time.”
Zelos credits his renewed sense of self-belief in 2017 to WDE, and it is evident that the respect is more than mutual, with Team Principal Wayne Eason quick to praise his young protégé’s eye-catching early-season form.
“We’re extremely happy with Dan’s performance so far,” he affirmed. “We were fans even before he joined WDE and knew he had a lot of potential, but he’s already proved that he has even more potential than we initially thought. His pace at both Donington and Thruxton – against drivers with a lot more experience than him – was phenomenal, and he showed us last weekend just how accomplished a racer he is too with some spectacular overtaking moves.
“He is so relaxed and clearly enjoying his racing, and I think that is a big part of his current form. He has a lot of confidence in his ability and in the car and is going from strength-to-strength each time he takes to the track. His work ethic is first-rate and he is so very nearly the complete package – getting off the start-line is the only remaining chink in his armour, but we will address that before the next round. Dan is turning into a proper little professional driver and he will win races in this championship, of that I have no doubt.”
In a gesture of support for his friend and former team-mate Billy Monger, Zelos changed his bonnet colour to cyan blue and got it autographed by the majority of the current BTCC drivers at Thruxton (see image below). It will be auctioned at a later date, with all proceeds going towards Billy’s rehabilitation from the life-changing injuries he suffered at Donington Park last month. Keep your eyes on Dan’s Facebook and Twitter pages for further updates.
Fastest lap and Easter podium success for Smith at Oulton Park
Wednesday 19 April 2017
- Superb podium for Rob Smith gets MINI season off to great start
- Searing pace in Rd2 delivers Sunoco Fastest Driver award
- Oulton local laps half a second quicker than anyone in race two
MINI Challenge title hopeful Rob Smith got his 2017 season off to an extremely impressive start at his ‘home’ circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, over Easter weekend with a sensational performance in round two delivering not only a richly deserved podium but also the fastest lap of the race.
So remarkable was the 24-year-old’s pace in the second of Easter Monday’s two season-opening contests, his fastest lap time of 1m50.328 seconds (87.84mph) was a full half second quicker than anything anyone else could manage – earning him the Sunoco Fastest Driver of the Weekend award.
Storming through from seventh on the grid with a blistering start, he climbed into fifth straight away and went on to finish in third place to open his podium account and lay a marker down in the ultra-competitive championship.
“Taking the podium and fastest lap was the ideal way to end the weekend”, said Smith, “Things didn’t go our way from Saturday onwards really, up to race two, so it’s fantastic to go away with two trophies – one for the Sunoco Fastest Driver. To lap quicker than pole and half a second faster than anyone, on a greasy track with fluid down at Hilltop, I think we sent a bit of a message today.”
Crewe-based Smith lined-up sixth on the grid for the opening race on Easter Monday, a red flag interrupted qualifying session preventing the Evergreen Tyres, BMTR and GroupTyre-backed racer from showing his true pace at that stage of proceedings.
Although it had rained earlier, the track was pretty much dry in time for the race start but all of the drivers were on wet-weather tyres. Smith made a terrific launch to instantly grab fifth and as he went through the gears on the run into Old Hall, he cut across to the inside to challenge for fourth.
Tucking back in to fifth on the exit, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver heavily pressured Max Bladon as he sought a way past to latch on to the podium battle. At the end of lap one, though, Smith came under attack from James Turkington and while managing to maintain position he was edged back to sixth into the chicane on lap two.
Slipping to seventh on lap three, largely as a result of a lack of grip, into the second half of the race he picked up his pace and on the final tour Smith posted his quickest lap of all, a time of 2m01.642s which was just 0.2 seconds shy of the fastest of the race.
Starting seventh for the dry second round, Smith instantly took sixth and brilliantly moved into fifth on the outside line through Old Hall. As the field headed through Island Bend he looked to challenge for fourth but had to tuck back in, glued to the rear of namesake Brett Smith.
On lap two at Cascades, the Evergreen-backed racer looked to have made fourth his but his rival was able to move back past. Swarming all over the No.39 MINI, into Druids there was nothing between them and then, at Cascades on lap three, the pressure told as Brett slid wide and Rob sliced by.
Having been held up over the first three laps, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team racer had a huge five second deficit to make up to the podium but a time penalty for third-on-the-road Mark Wakefield, resulting from a false start, enabled Smith to assume third on corrected times.
Unsure which competitor had been served a penalty, Smith was actually unaware he had done enough to finish on the podium so he reeled off a series of fastest laps, apparently with ease, and ultimately punched in a quickest time of 1m50.328 seconds on the final tour. Capping a magnificent drive, he closed to within less than three seconds of the runner-up spot.
“On Thursday in testing the car was mega quick, but qualifying on Saturday was so disrupted with red flags and traffic so we just couldn’t get a lap in”, he explained, “For race one everyone turned up with full wets on a track which was pretty much bone dry, plus our car’s ride height was too high after a problem when checking it with the rollers, so we struggled more than we should.
“In race two I had an awesome start and then got stuck behind Brett for quite a few laps which is what can happen at Oulton, but he made a mistake with a huge tank-slapper and I got past. I got my head down and decided to bang in some qualifying laps, I didn’t know which driver had the penalty so I just pushed and the car was mega. Roll on Rockingham…”
Northamptonshire’s Rockingham ISSC will host the second event of the MINI Challenge season over the weekend 29th/30th April.
2017 MINI Challenge Standings
5th Rob Smith, 76pts
Pole position promise and career-best finish for Zelos on breakthrough weekend
Wednesday 19 April 2017
- Talented Norfolk teenager posts new qualifying lap record
- Best result to-date for WDE Motorsport ace at Donington Park
- 18-year-old insists that his current form is only the start
Dan Zelos proved his prowess as the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup sped into Donington Park last weekend (15/16 April), with the talented young Norfolk ace claiming his maiden pole position in commanding fashion and producing the kind of race pace that suggests he will be a serious threat indeed next time out at Thruxton.
Zelos arrived at Donington sitting sixth in the standings in the fiercely-disputed, ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) feeder series, following an encouraging debut for WDE Motorsport a fortnight earlier at Brands Hatch.
The East Anglian teenager maintained his momentum throughout practice by featuring consistently up towards the sharp end of proceedings. He concluded the opening day in eighth position amongst the 25 high-calibre contenders – the largest Clio Cup field in more than three years – despite electing against bolting new tyres onto his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car.
Heading into qualifying in positive mood, Zelos vaulted to the top of the timesheets midway through the session with an effort that none of his adversaries would subsequently prove able to match, earning the 18-year-old his first car racing pole position and a new qualifying lap record to boot.
A multi-car collision at the start of race one immediately sent the red flags flying, and whilst Zelos successfully avoided the carnage, contact from a rival on the run down the Craner Curves sent him skating wildly across the grass and pits-bound with a puncture.
Forced to take the re-start from the pit-lane and with no opportunity to generate heat into his tyres, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot nonetheless refused to give up. Over a shortened seven-minute distance and despite damaged tracking from the earlier impact affecting the N°45 car’s handling, he fought his way through from 17th to 12th, posting the third-fastest lap along the way in evidence of what might have been.
From third on the grid in race two, Zelos recovered from a wheelspin-afflicted getaway when the lights went out to swiftly settle into the top six. After shaking off his pursuers, he began chasing down the leading quintet and was the quickest driver on the track when the safety car emerged due to an incident further back in the order.
By the time the action resumed, the heavens had opened, rendering conditions precarious indeed on slick tyres, but the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate invariably excels in such low-grip situations and he was lining up an attack when the red flags emerged again – this time for good.
With the result counted back a lap, Zelos was classified fifth – his highest finish in Clio Cup competition to-date. He will next travel to Thruxton – the fastest and most fearsome circuit in the country and scene of his maiden car racing victory three years ago – with his tail up and eager to convert his palpable potential into podium silverware.
“The first thing I want to say is that my thoughts and those of my family are with Billy Monger after the terrible accident he was involved in at Donington,” commented the former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “I’ve known Billy for more than five years since we were team-mates in karting, and we both raced for JHR Developments in Ginetta Juniors too. He quickly became a friend and I want to wish him all the very best in his recovery. Stay strong, Billy.
“On a personal level, there were so many positives to take away from Donington, even if the races evidently didn’t go the way we had been hoping. I left as the new qualifying lap record-holder, was amongst the three quickest drivers in both races and achieved my first top five finish in Clios – so we definitely gave a glimpse of what we are capable of over the course of the weekend.
“Funnily enough, I’d never really gelled that well with Donington in the past, but we were quick from the outset this time. We didn’t run on new tyres at all during practice and I made a mistake at the chicane on my best lap which cost me more than three tenths-of-a-second – yet we were still only 0.274s away from the benchmark.
“With that in mind, I was optimistic of pushing for a front row slot in qualifying – and obviously we achieved that and then some! I was over-the-moon to take my first car racing pole position, and to do so at Donington of all places was a real boost. For me, it was the perfect session – the car felt mega and everything just came together.
“I was sat on the grid ahead of the first race thinking back to 12 months earlier, and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come – last year at Donington, I was well down the field and halfway around the opening lap, I was upside-down on my roof! Things are a bit different now...
“Clearly I still need to work on my starts because they are continuing to hold me back – costing me a shot at the podium if not better on Sunday – but our race pace was really strong and I lapped faster than the winner both times. Unfortunately, having to re-start from the pit-lane in race one ruled out any chance of a decent finish – especially over such a shortened distance – and then race two was red-flagged just as I was beginning to move forward!
“That was a real shame, because I enjoy the challenge of those conditions and seemed to find the grip more quickly than the drivers ahead of me, but to be honest, given what had happened to Billy earlier in the day, the results were immaterial.
“Looking forward, we can go to Thruxton now with a lot of confidence. It’s my favourite track on the calendar and I’ve always performed well there, and we have a fantastic team spirit here at WDE. I genuinely think we will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Zelos embraces 'fresh start' as he races into 2017 with strong double score
Wednesday 5 April 2017
- Norfolk teenager ‘a whole new driver’ in 2017
- WDE Motorsport ace shines in season-opener
- Series sophomore sits sixth in early standings
Dan Zelos demonstrated just what a difference a year makes by producing his best performance to-date as the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup roared into life at Brands Hatch last weekend (1/2 April), with the talented young Norfolk ace crediting a ‘fresh start’ as the secret to his success.
Zelos’ rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed, single-make BTCC support series in 2016 was peppered with promise but also plagued by persistent ill-fortune, with the hitherto ultra-consistent East Anglian teenager finishing only one of his opening five races in the championship.
Following a switch to WDE Motorsport and having spent the winter months rebuilding his battered confidence, Zelos returned to the track at Brands Hatch ready to prove his potential in what has been billed as the most competitive field in UK Clio Cup history.
Running routinely inside the top ten throughout practice amongst the 24 protagonists, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot maintained that improved form to qualify eighth and sixth behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio.
The weather threw an unexpected curve ball as the heavens opened ahead of race one on Saturday, and with his car still carrying a dry set-up, Zelos recovered from a wheelspin-afflicted getaway to complete the first lap in ninth. With grip at an absolute premium, he advanced to eighth when a driver ahead went wide before snatching seventh from former team-mate Ollie Pidgley on the exit of Paddock Hill Bend.
Thereafter, he focussed on chasing down the leading sextet, and he had practically halved the deficit to sixth place by the time the chequered flag fell. Matching and on occasion even outpacing the race-winner along the way, his impressively composed and confidence-inspiring performance saw the 18-year-old equal his best result from 2016 straight off the bat.
Sunday’s contest in front of the live ITV4 television cameras adhered to a similar theme, as Zelos lost ground at lights-out but rapidly battled back into the top ten. Progressing to eighth and pulling well clear of his pursuers, he latched onto the fight for fifth and once more pegged the leaders for pace as he concluded the first weekend of his sophomore campaign in style – and with not so much as a scratch on the #45 car.
The Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student will travel next to Donington Park on 15/16 April sitting an excellent sixth in the championship standings – and having already scored more than twice the points total he tallied during the entire first half of 2016...
“It was an extremely positive weekend,” Zelos reflected. “The Renault UK Clio Cup is even tougher this year – the level of competition has stepped up another notch over the off-season – and that’s a challenge that I relish. I went to Brands in optimistic mood after showing strong pace in winter testing, and the aim was to get two good, solid points finishes under my belt – which is precisely what we achieved.
“We had a trouble-free run through practice and then qualifying went well; we could possibly have been a little bit higher on the grid, but it’s tricky around Brands’ short Indy Circuit because the times are always so close and you’re trying to find some clean air when there are more than 20 other cars all out on-track at once. Two top eight grid slots nonetheless left us firmly in the ballpark for the races.
“I was a bit puzzled by our start issues as in practice they had gone well, so we need to look into that but we demonstrated good speed in both races in wet and dry conditions alike. The trouble was, with everybody lapping at such a similar pace at the front of the field, once things settled down into a rhythm it was a bit of a stalemate with very little change in the order.
“In race one, I was gaining on the top six in the closing stages but simply ran out of time – with a few more laps, we would have been right with them so the potential was definitely there for an even better result. To be as quick as them was really encouraging, and I wasn’t pushing flat-out as the main thing was to make sure I got to the end without any damage, particularly with the new regulations prioritising consistency now that dropped scores no longer count.
“I think given what happened at the beginning of last season, I had a bit of a point to prove this time around. I’ve come so far over the past 12 months and 2016 is nothing more than a distant memory now. I feel completely at home at WDE – the team is like my second family – and I’m treating 2017 as a totally fresh start; yes, it’s the same championship and the same car, but I feel like a whole new driver and so much more confident in my own ability. Everything is moving in a very positive direction and there’s plenty still left to unlock. Donington can’t come soon enough!”
Zelos revved-up and ready to rock after promising pre-season test programme
Tuesday 21 March 2017
- Highly-rated Norfolk racer bullish about his 2017 prospects
- East Anglian teenager feeling at home at WDE Motorsport
- 18-year-old proudly unveils Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car
Dan Zelos is fighting fit ahead of the start of the 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup in just under a fortnight’s time, capping a positive pre-season testing programme with WDE Motorsport by officially taking the wraps off the striking new livery adorning his Evergreen Tyres-sponsored car.
Zelos graduated to the fiercely-disputed, ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship feeder series last year off the back of a brace of impressive campaigns in Ginetta Juniors, continuing to catch the eye with his raw pace and potential but finding himself on the receiving end of persistent ill-fortune.
The talented young Norfolk ace returns in 2017 with a new team in WDE, renewed motivation and a fresh outlook, determined to demonstrate his mettle in what is commonly regarded as the toughest single-make championship on the tremendously popular TOCA package.
A bumper list of 24 high-calibre contenders – the largest in five years – was announced during the Clio Cup’s annual Media Day at Rockingham, raising expectations of the most competitive season in the series’ long and illustrious history.
Having already been out testing at Brands Hatch Indy, Snetterton and Thruxton, Zelos was able to compare himself against many of his rivals at Rockingham. The 18-year-old Dereham-based hotshot served notice of intent by lapping fifth-fastest in the opening session behind the wheel of his distinctive #45 entry, leaving him in optimistic mood ahead of the Brands Hatch curtain-raiser on 1/2 April.
“I’m feeling good,” enthused the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergrad and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “The car looks awesome and certainly stands out on the track in its new livery. I’m excited about carrying the Evergreen colours again and repaying them for their loyal support by really doing the brand proud.
“I feel like I’m a completely different driver this year. I’ve reverted to the smoother style that worked well for me in Ginettas, and that really seems to be paying off. I feel mentally and physically stronger after working hard over the winter, and more confident in myself and my ability.
“We might only have had a few days in the car, but we’ve made the most of them and have got a lot of laps under our belt in both wet and dry conditions. We’ve been quick everywhere we’ve tested and I’ve been trading times with my team-mates at each circuit we’ve visited. In the first session at Rockingham, at least three of the four drivers ahead of me on the timesheets had new tyres on, whereas we ran on old rubber all day, so to set the kind of pace that we did was really encouraging.
“There’s a great atmosphere at WDE; I’ve already established an excellent relationship with my new mechanic, and I’m getting on well with the whole team and learning a lot. Paul Rivett in particular has so much experience of Clio competition, so to have the opportunity to compare feedback with him and draw upon his knowledge and expertise is a massive boost.
“It’s a big grid this year with a lot of strength-in-depth throughout the field from experienced drivers to rapid rookies, so we’re under no illusions about how tough it’s going to be but after gauging ourselves against the opposition, we know we’re definitely in the ballpark. I’m confident that between us, we can bring home plenty of trophies for WDE this year – so roll on Brands Hatch!”
SMITH CONFIRMS 2017 MINI CHALLENGE RETURN WITH MINI UK VIP TEAM
Thursday 9 March 2017
Multiple MINI CHALLENGE race winner Rob Smith has today, 9th March, confirmed his return to the championship’s headline JCW class for a third consecutive season. 2017 will mark the second season with the factory supported MINI UK VIP team for the Evergreen Tyres, Grouptyre and BMTR sponsored racer, alongside 2015 champion Charlie Butler-Henderson.
Despite taking a pair of race victories and ten podiums over the course of the last two seasons, Smith has ended both campaigns 7th in the championship standings as a result of an extended run of bad luck. For 2017 however, the 24 year old Bentley Motors Body and Trim engineer and his team have their sights set on reversing that trend.
“I’m delighted to be returning to the JCW class with the MINI UK VIP team for 2017”, comments Smith, “There’s no denying that we have the pace to win the championship, there hasn’t been a single round over the last two seasons where we haven’t been in contention for silverware at some point.
“The missing ingredient has been some good fortune. The last two seasons have shown that the key to winning the championship is consistency, and we just haven’t been able to replicate that.
“I’m confident that we can turn things around for 2017 and I’m hoping to pick up as many wins and podiums as possible, but having said that, the main aim is never to finish outside the top six. If we can do that I think we stand every chance of fighting for the title.”
2017 marks a significant moment in the history of the MINI CHALLENGE as the championship joins the support bill for the British GT championship, one of the most high profile series in UK motorsport. In addition the championship will also receive live and free-to-air television coverage on all formats courtesy of Front Runner TV, alongside extended highlights packages on Channel 4.
“The live TV deal with Front Runner is a fantastic addition to the profile of the championship and another selling point to what is already one of the most attractive propositions in UK motorsport” adds Rob. “The sight of 30 plus JCWs racing door handle to door handle is bound to be entertaining, and I hope the Evergreen Tyres backed car will be getting plenty of coverage at the front of the field.”
The opening round of the British GT and MINI CHALLENGE JCW campaigns take place at Cheshire’s Oulton Park International Circuit on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, the 15th and 17th of April.
GEARBOX PROBLEMS HALT SMITH'S HOPES OF ENDING MINI CHALLENGE SEASON WITH MORE SILVERWARE
Thursday 3 November 2016
- Frustrating end to 2016 season for series front-runner Rob Smith
- Double gearbox change at Snetterton finale hits podium hopes
- Smith eyeing 2017 MINI title bid ahead of planned 2018 BTCC move
Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre Ltd and BMTR-supported racing driver Rob Smith experienced a vexing conclusion to the final event of the MINI Challenge season at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk over the weekend, 29th/30th October, with gearbox problems halting his charge for podium success.
Arriving back at Snetterton fresh from a superb showing in his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship test at the East Anglian track 10 days prior, Robhoped to add to his tally of four podium finishes but his pace was stymied by the mechanical woes.
Requiring an initial change of gearbox during pre-event testing after his original unit failed, the ‘last resort’ replacement didn’t deliver any pre-load with the differential which impacted the traction and performance in qualifying – ultimately leaving Rob11th fastest.
Making a good start from the sixth row of the grid in race one of the weekend on Saturday, the Nantwich 24-year-old gained two places on the opening tour and he remained in ninth place for the first couple of laps.
Set to challenge for eighth place on lap three, as the car ahead went wide and Robleft room he was then pushed out onto the grass by another rival and so dropped to 15th position. In the end, he battled back through into a 12th place finish.
Two more races were timetabled for Sunday but the weather had other plans in rural Norfolk, thick fog blanketing Snetterton and resulting in a major shake-up of the day’s running order. Race two was slated for late morning but due to the significant delays caused by the lack of visibility it actually got underway in the middle of the afternoon.
Prior to the second contest, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team mechanics fitted another gearbox to Rob’s No.37 MINI JCW in an effort to eradicate the issues. Worsening weather, though, meant the last race was realistically limited to only a single lap.
Officials opted to begin the contest behind the Safety Car with the fog, which caused so many delays during the day, moving back in over the track. After four laps under caution, green flags were waved and Rob held an improved 11th place due to one driver coming to grief. Racing did get underway on the fifth tour but the chequered flag was waved at the end of lap – Rob coming home in 10th spot.
“It wasn’t the end to the season we wanted, but it’s how this year has been unfortunately”, said the series front-runner, “After the gearbox failure on Friday, we had to fit a last option spare to the car but it had no pre-load so I was getting wheel-spin in qualifying – we had no traction in the middle sector and couldn’t get a time as a result, I lost the benefit of the tyres.
“I had a good first lap in race one and when I was about to challenge for eighth, and get onto the back of the group ahead, a car went wide so I left them space but I was then put onto the grass from someone behind. We fitted another gearbox for race two, the diff was a lot better, but it wasn’t really a race in the end with the Safety Car and early finish.”
He added: “Now we’ll be working on the sponsorship over the winter for next year and 2018. The main plan is to be back in the MINI Challenge and to fight for the championship, I really want that on my CV before we try and move into touring cars, but we’ll see what happens.”
Final 2016 MINI Challenge Driver Standings:
7th Rob Smith, 492pts
MINI CHALLENGE FRONT-RUNNER ROB SMITH EYEING BTCC GRADUATION AFTER 'FANTASTIC' MAIDEN TEST WITH POWER MAXED RACING
Monday 24 October 2016
- MINI Challenge race winner Smith impresses on touring car test debut
- Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR-backed driver elated with run
- Smith’s pace and professionalism praised by Power Maxed squad
Race winning MINI Challenge driver Rob Smith has confirmed he is targeting a place on the MSA British Touring Car Championship grid ‘sooner rather than later’ after enjoying an extremely successful maiden touring car test at Snetterton 300 Circuit last week.
Joining top BTCC squad Power Maxed Racing at the Norfolk track last Wednesday, 19th October, to sample the Chevrolet Cruze which was piloted in the UK’s biggest championship this year by Hunter Abbott, 24-year-old Rob delivered an excellent account of himself.
Adapting to the touring car seamlessly from the 255bhp MINI he normally pilots in the one-make MINI Challenge, the Nantwich-based ‘tin top’ racer says his desire to graduate into the BTCC has only hastened since getting behind the wheel of the Cruze.
“It was all I expected and more, it’s been a long held ambition of mine to drive a BTCC car”, said an elated Rob, “The day went superbly, it showed what a great job the guys at the MINI Challenge have done as it’s prepared me so well for the touring car. I was ready inside five laps, able to acclimatise to the car quickly and feel at home. It was a fantastic first test.
“The lap times were good, I was very happy with the progress we made and the day went pretty much faultlessly. The team did a great job and made the transition even easier, everyone was so helpful. I really liked driving the Chevrolet and I definitely want to be on the BTCC grid sooner rather than later – we’ll be working hard to try and raise the sponsorship to run with a top team like PMR.”
Through the links Power Maxed Racing has with the MINI Challenge, an opportunity for Rob to test with the team in one of its touring cars was a possibility for the official Dunlop tyre test mid-season at Snetterton. While the additional budget wasn’t available at that point, both parties stayed in touch and struck a deal for Rob to make his bow last week.
“Rob performed in a very professional manner, settled into the car straight away and it quickly seemed a natural environment for him”, reflected Power Maxed Racing team manager Martin Broadhurst, “He followed all of the right procedures, behaved like a true professional should and made good gains throughout the test even though we were a bit unfortunate with the weather.”
Smith aiming high for MINI Challenge season finale at Snetterton
With his maiden BTCC test still fresh in his mind, Rob now turns his attention back to the MINI Challenge with the final event of the season set to take place at Snetterton this coming weekend, 29th/30th October.
By the time the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver takes part in qualifying for the championship finale on Saturday, it will have been a full 10 weeks since the penultimate event of the campaign at Oulton Park where he secured his fourth podium of the year.
All season, the Bentley Cars Body and Trim Engineer has performed well at the wheel of his MINI JCW but a series of technical dramas have impacted his championship position – Rob heads to Snetterton seventh in the title race.
As well as climbing the podium for the second event in succession last time out, after his car underwent a mid-season engine rebuild, he also delivered his first pole position qualifying performance of 2016 and is aiming to replicate that level of pace in the season closing triple-header.
“Getting some laps at Snetterton in the touring car last week will hopefully be good prep for the last round of the MINIs”, said Rob, “Since we had the engine rebuilt, the last part of the season has been much better and our pace has been more where it should have been all year. I haven’t got anything to lose at the weekend, so I’m going for pole position again and three podiums.”
Qualifying at Snetterton 300 Circuit will get underway at 11.30 on Saturday, 29th October, with round 16 of the championship following at 15.40. On Sunday, 30th October, round 17 is set to begin at 11.10 with the final race of the season, round 18, getting underway at 14.50.
Provisional 2016 MINI Challenge Driver Standings (after Rd15):
7th Rob Smith, 447pts
Rob Smith made a very welcome, and long overdue, return to the top step of the MINI Challenge podium at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 8th/9th July, with a sensational lights-to-flag performance in the first of the event’s three races at the Kent venue.
Forming part of the annual MINI Festival at Brands Hatch, the fifth event of the MINI Challenge season started superbly for the Crewe-based driver with pole position in qualifying and he went o ...more
We are so confident of the quality and reliability of our tyres, we guarantee it
Dan Zelos brought a dash of Hollywood glamour to Rockingham Motor Speedway last weekend (25-27 August), as the talented young Norfolk ace battled to a brace of hard-earned top ten finishes in the Renault UK Clio Cup – behind the wheel of a car whose livery bore a striking resemblance to Cole Trickle’s iconic Chevrolet Lumina from ‘Days of Thunder’.
No.37 MINI not so lucky with damage ruling car out of Rd16
Top three series bid dealt heavy blow in penultimate event
All attention turns to ending season on high in Donington finale
Oulton Park local Rob Smith endured a bitterly frustrating return to his ‘home’ track on Saturday, 19th August, when a luckl ...more
Championship front-runner Rob Smith eyeing wins at Oulton
• Local favourite determined to break into top three of standings
• Sponsors Evergreen Tyres and Oak Tyres target ‘home’ success
Home favourite Rob Smith cannot wait to return to his local track, Oulton Park in Cheshire, this coming Saturday, 19th August, when the ...more
Rapid MINI Challenge front-runner Rob Smith claimed his second lights-to-flag victory of the 2017 season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 6th August, with an impressive performance during round 13 of the campaign.
Adding to the win he achieved on the Kent venue’s shorter Indy Circuit configuration during the previous event last month, the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR supported ace was again the driver to beat with searing pace in both q ...more
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- Just picked the car up with 4 new Evergreen tyres, Fantastic all in one price fitted. Replaced 4 Continental tyres. Will have to wait and see how ...more
- Excellent tyres for the price...more
- Had these tyres on the car for the last 2 years have been very good and seem to last a lot longer then some of the more higher priced brands....more