Evergreen-backed Dan Zelos hailed as a ‘big step in the right direction’ his performance at Croft in North Yorkshire as he scored two top five finishes in the Renault UK Clio Cup.
The talented young Norfolk ace finally converted his stellar qualifying form into a brace of top finishes after a run of bad luck.
Prior to Croft, Zelos’ 2018 campaign had been characterised by two overriding features – scintillating raw speed offset by chronic ill-fortune, with persistent clutch issues repeatedly frustrating his efforts.
And with Croft having never been the happiest of hunting grounds for the 20-year-old, it seemed an unlikely venue for his luck to change. But change it did as he was consistently quick throughout free practice behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio and went on to secure fifth and third on the grid for the two races amongst the 19 high-calibre contenders.
Fastest of anybody through the final sector of qualifying and winding up just 0.157 seconds shy of pole position in the intensely competitive field, Zelos had to get his elbows out at the beginning of Saturday’s contest and emerged from the opening sequence of turns in sixth place, subsequently gaining a couple of spots at the end of the first lap by deftly avoiding a collision just ahead. Thereafter, he ran comfortably in the leading quintet throughout, applying pressure on Daniel Rowbottom before coming under some late-race scrutiny himself from Michael Epps.
The former BTCC driver clipped the tail of the WDE Motorsport car going into Sunny In on the penultimate lap, leaving Zelos with the option of either taking to the grass or turning in and risking a collision. The East Anglian racer wisely steered clear of trouble to clock up his highest finish of 2018 this far – fifth. It was a result he replicated in sweltering conditions in front of the live ITV4 television cameras the next day, holding Epps off to the chequered flag this time while routinely pegging the leaders for pace.
The fourth-highest points haul of the weekend elevated Zelos into the top 10 in the overall standings going into the mid-summer break, and when the action resumes at Snetterton at the end of July – home turf for the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student – he insists the rostrum will be firmly on his radar.
“Croft represented a big step in the right direction after our early-season issues,” he reflected. “We finally got a couple of solid results under our belts – and around a circuit that has never really smiled on me in the past! We were consistently inside the top five in qualifying and the races and we came away with a very healthy score, which is particularly important at Croft as it’s a long old journey home if you have a bad weekend.
“We set the car up to be fast out-of-the-blocks in race one and I was all over Rowbottom in the early stages, but our performance increasingly dropped off as the laps ticked down. Epps caught me and pulled a typical touring car move into Sunny In, which is not somewhere you want to run two-wide and it was extremely close to going very wrong for both of us.
“Mindful of needing a result and some decent points on the board in light of our difficult start to the year, I took the sensible approach and gave up the place; whilst I was kicking myself a little bit afterwards for that, I would have been kicking myself a whole lot more if we’d both gone off.
“We renewed battle in race two, and I could see in my mirrors that Epps had somebody behind him so I kept trying to slow him down through the hairpin to back him up and make him wear his tyres out more quickly. That seemed to pay off towards the end as I was able to edge away from him again.
“Ultimately, I was happy to leave Croft with two top five finishes, which gives us something to build on over the summer break. I still clearly have some work to do on nailing the starts, but we had the pace to challenge for a top three result in both races and when you look at the guys I’m competing directly against, they do come with some pretty impressive résumés.
“Paul Rivett is a three-time champion in the series, Epps and Max Coates have both raced in the BTCC, Lee Pattison is in his eighth full season in the UK Clio Cup and has previously finished as championship runner-up and Rowbottom was already racing cars when I was in primary school! It’s fair to say I’m one of the least experienced amongst the front-runners, and I need to remind myself of that sometimes.
“We’ll go to Snetterton with some momentum behind us and the pressure off. We’ll be unveiling a special livery for that weekend to thank Evergreen for all their support over the years, which is very exciting, and I’ve generally gone well there in the past – so the podium is most definitely in my sights!”