Luck – some say you can’t buy it, others that you make it yourself – but as the Renault UK Clio Cup season drew to a close at Brands Hatch, Dan Zelos could be forgiven for wondering what else he needed to do to improve his luck.
Few drivers on the grid have worked as hard as the Evergreen Tyres-backed Dereham Dynamo this season and at times his speed has been unmatched. But each time he has seemed on the cusp of joining the championship leaders’ group, fate has conspired against him.
At Brands Hatch the rising star unleashed a scintillating turn-of-speed as he made a push for the podium place that had so far eluded him all season. But once more, Lady Luck had other ideas.
He topped the timesheets among the 21-strong field in the opening free practice session on old tyres, before continuing to feature firmly at the sharp end in FP2, spearheading the WDE Motorsport charge.
Feeling like there was more pace to squeeze from the Clio, Dan and the WDE mechanics made some set-up alterations for qualifying. Unfortunately it didn’t pay off and Zelos had to battle for a 10th-place qualifying place on the grid. While it cemented his position as the fifth-best qualifier across the entire campaign, it was not the result he was aiming for.
Determined to return to the leading pack, Zelos launched the number 45 car off the line well at the beginning of race one. Even a nudge when battling for fifth could only drop him down to seventh as he drove with fire. Following a lengthy safety car period for a collision further down the field, Zelos advanced to sixth and was sizing up championship leader Max Coates for fifth when the red flags flew for another accident, leading to the result being declared after only three racing laps.
Nailing the start again in race two the following day, Zelos vaulted up to seventh and assertively latched onto the tail of the top six, but with team-mate and WDE Team Manager Paul Rivett directly ahead still fighting for the championship, he knew he couldn’t take any major risks.
In front of the live ITV4 television cameras, he swiftly settled into an absorbing eight-car scrap, taking advantage of a shuffle through Druids and Graham Hill Bend with three laps remaining to opportunistically grab fourth and proceeding to close down a 0.8s gap to the second-placed duel within the space of just two corners.
On-course to finish at least fourth, he found himself unceremoniously shoved off-track from behind on the last lap, dropping him to eighth which would later become seventh when his assailant was penalised for the contact. An incident which summed-up Zelos’ campaign.
“After the trouble we had earlier in the season, I’ve developed my own technique for the starts and it’s working really well. I was already up to sixth by the first corner of race one, but there was no opportunity to gain any more ground with the delays and eventual stoppage. I had a really fast car underneath me and just wanted to get on with it and go on the attack, but safety must come first.
“The next day, I got boxed in slightly away from the line which limited my progress a little, but I was still able to make up places and I tucked in behind Paul into Druids. Again, we had mega pace – and all credit goes to the WDE boys for that – but I was mindful of Paul’s title challenge so I needed to be careful. I managed to snatch fourth later on and immediately caught the two guys battling over second, and we were on for a really strong result when I received a big hit from behind going into Surtees on the last lap which sent me off the track.
“That was so frustrating, because it almost certainly cost us a podium with the way things played out, and it kind of summed up our season in a nutshell – all ifs, buts and maybes. We’ve been quick pretty much everywhere, but we’ve rarely had the luck to go with it – and ultimately, that is what has cost us the chance to fight for a much stronger championship finish.”
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