Zelos’ prodigious pace undone by ill-fortune at Oulton

For the second event in a row, Dan Zelos’ scintillating raw speed created a real buzz in the Clio Cup, only for ill-fortune to deny the talented young Norfolk ace the rostrum result his pace palpably deserved.

As the Renault UK Clio Cup arrived at the picturesque Oulton Park Circuit in Cheshire, Zelos lapped seventh and fifth-quickest behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio in free practice – and his old tyre pace was the fastest in the field.

The WDE Motorsport star subsequently went even better in qualifying to secure a season-best third on the grid for race one and fourth for race two amongst the 18 high-calibre protagonists in the fiercely-disputed single-make series.

Three weeks’ earlier at Thruxton, Zelos had maintained his stellar qualifying record around the ultra-fast Hampshire circuit – where he has never started outside the top six – by lining up fifth and fourth for the two races in the ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) feeder series.

The 20-year-old looked primed to push for the podium until clutch issues – a persistent problem since the beginning of the campaign – resurfaced and left him struggling to get away from the line. That prompted a ‘crisis test’ at Brands Hatch to resolve the situation, and following a productive day, he duly headed to Oulton with a new clutch and renewed confidence.

Unfortunately wheelspin cost Zelos three places when the starting lights went out on Saturday and although he was consistently one of the quickest drivers on the track – lapping as fast as the leader for much of the race – he was unable to regain ground around a circuit where it is famously tricky to overtake.

Featuring at the sharp end throughout, he eventually took the chequered flag sixth, less than two seconds shy of the runner-up laurels.

The highly-rated Dereham hotshot fared slightly better at the start of race two the next day, only to be brusquely shoved wide on the exit of Old Hall and sent bouncing across the grass on the run-down to Cascades.

Rejoining in 10th, he rapidly reclaimed one of the lost positions but there his progress was halted as the top nine cars circulated as one in a high-speed Oulton Park freight train. A better fastest lap than the race-winner again served to underscore what might have been.

Although understandably disappointed by the outcome, Zelos moved up a spot in the overall standings and is fired-up to convert his pace and potential into a solid points haul next time out at Croft in North Yorkshire (22-24 June).

“Oulton was a weekend of two halves,” mused the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “Qualifying went really well, but then the races were hugely frustrating.

“We arrived in confident spirits after rectifying the clutch issue and, while Oulton has traditionally been a difficult circuit for me, this time, I felt like everything ‘clicked’ pretty much straight away and I was really happy with the car, which is credit to all the WDE Motorsport guys. We had a great practice day and built upon that in qualifying, which is important at Oulton because it’s extremely difficult to pass there.

“I perhaps didn’t warm the front tyres up enough going to the grid ahead of race one, and there was then a long hold before the starting lights came on. When they finally did, I ended up wheelspinning away from the line. Given the way the race went and how little overtaking there was anywhere in the field, if I’d got away in third place I would almost certainly have kept it to the end, so that was obviously disappointing, but it was my mistake and I held my hand up to it.

“The car bogged down again slightly at the beginning of race two, but I was still inside the top five going into the first corner when I was tagged and sent off the track, which dropped me down the order. After that, it was essentially a carbon copy of race one. My Clio felt really good throughout – I think we probably had the best race pace of anybody, in truth, but we just couldn’t do anything with it due to the importance of track position there.

“Moving on to Croft, we tested there earlier this year and I felt the best I ever have in the car, which gives us plenty of cause for optimism looking ahead. We’re overdue a change of fortunes now and overdue a podium finish – so heading to Yorkshire, that’s got to be the goal.”