Zelos claims rookie title despite home circuit woe

Dan Zelos if the Mini Challenge Rookie Champion for 2019!

The Dereham Dynamo – who has been supported by Evegreen Tyres throughout his six year rise through the ranks of British motorsport, did enough to clinch the title at his home track of Snetterton.

But the victory was bitterweet as a strok of bad luck not only prevented Zelos putting on a nshpow for his home fans, but also robbed him of the opportunity to clinch the main championship title for his Mini UK VIP team.

While he was very much the outsider in the three-way title battle for the headlining JCW Class Championship, Zelos was determined to put up a fight and he briefly topped the timesheets once again in qualifying, only to miss out on the best of the conditions right at the end of the session when the damp-but-drying track surface was at its fastest.

That restricted the 21-year-old to a frustrated eighth on the grid for the opener amongst the 27 high-calibre protagonists, but he immediately went on the offensive, swiftly settling into a four-way scrap for supremacy as the leading quartet made a break from the chasing pack.

Unfortunately, rear diffuser damage from the early skirmishes slightly stunted Zelos’ straight-line speed. He relentlessly applied the pressure on James ‘Jiggy’ Gornall in an effort to unseat his experienced rival from third but his performance disadvantage meant he couldn’t quite prise the door ajar. Fourth at the flag, the race’s second-best lap time – quicker than the winner – showed what might have been had he secured a better grid position.

The home hero held his nerve on the opening lap of race two the following day to scythe his way up to second. Not long after, he drew alongside the leader, but a tag sent him into a wild 360-degree spin across the grass. It was only Zelos’ supreme control that kept him away from the barriers.

Having dropped to 18th, Zelos recovered to 12th place by the time the safety car was scrambled on lap three. At the restart, he opportunistically grabbed three more places with a new fastest lap hauling him up to sixth and right in the hunt for third spot.

As he made a bid for the final podium place a tangle between the two cars he was passing pitched him off the road again – this time terminally. Thankfully, the points buffer he had built up meant his Rookie Cup championship was safe.

“I really wanted to finish the season with a win – especially at my home circuit in front of family and friends – and three-quarters of the way around the first lap in race two I really thought we were on for one, but sadly it wasn’t to be,” Zelos mused.

“Mathematically, the JCW title was still a possibility but realistically, I needed the other two guys to have at least one bad race each to stand any sort of chance – it was always going to be an extremely tall order, and qualifying then made that task doubly difficult. I just missed out on an extra lap at the end of the session when the chequered flag appeared, and I think that would have been the one as I had a great exit from the final chicane. That summarised the whole weekend in some respects – wrong place, wrong time.

“That doesn’t detract from what has been a great year overall, though. The two drivers I was battling for the title both have considerably more experience than me – ‘Jiggy’ is a former British GT champion and Nathan Harrison has finished second in the Mini Challenge three times now – so to push them right the way to the last race in my debut campaign was hugely positive. At the end of the day, my main pre-season aim was the Rookie Cup – and we achieved that comfortably.

“After three years in Clios and minimal winter testing, I feel like I got to grips with the Mini and the Championship very quickly. Big thanks to Evergreen Tyres, EXCELR8 Motorsport – who gave me a race-winning car pretty much every time we went out – and my mechanic Dan Cusick, who has been awesome all season. I don’t think we’ve had a single mechanical issue in the races, which is incredible.

“I’m under no illusions that the calibre in the Mini Challenge is going to increase in 2020 with the move onto the British Touring Car Championship package, but make no mistake – I’m going to be stronger, too. Next season starts right now!”