Talented young Norfolk racer Dan Zelos has the top step of the podium in his sights in 2018, after recommitting to front-running outfit WDE Motorsport for a second season in the fiercely-disputed Renault UK Clio Cup.Bouncing back from a troubled maiden campaign in the single-make, ITV4-televised British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) support series, Zelos’ remarkable turnaround was one of the undisputed success stories of 2017. Courtesy of 13 top ten finishes from 18 starts, his first pole position and fastest lap and one of the best average qualifying records in the 33-strong field, he sped to eighth spot in the overall standings – a ten-place improvement on the previous year.
The Dereham-based hotshot saved the best ‘til last behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio with a brilliant performance to charge to a popular podium double in the Brands Hatch GP season finale as he snared a brace of runner-up finishes. It was an overdue breakthrough, after he had flirted with the rostrum at Donington Park – where he outpaced all of his rivals in qualifying – and Oulton Park, where he was lining up an attack for third when the red flags flew for an accident just two laps in and there was no re-start.
As he revs up towards the start of the forthcoming campaign, Zelos is working hard to ensure he is as physically and mentally sharp as can be with his new personal trainer Paul Suggitt, fitness coach for Great Britain’s Speedway team and a man who helped to guide Jason Doyle to the 2017 FIM Speedway World Championship.
The 19-year-old Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student is due to return to the track for his first test of the year at Brands Hatch in mid-February, and when the competitive action fires into life at the same circuit a few weeks later, he makes it clear that he intends to carry over the positive momentum with which he signed off last season.
“As a driver, I feel completely different to how I did this time 12 months ago,” Zelos affirmed. “Last year represented a huge step forward over 2016, and by the end of it, everything just clicked. I’m now brimful of confidence and in a really good place – and ready to maintain that upward trend.
“I had a great year with WDE in 2017, and there was never really any question of not continuing with them in 2018. I felt at home inside the team straightaway and I get on really well with all the guys both at and away from the track. It was beyond doubt my most enjoyable year in the sport so far, and for me, it’s the perfect environment.
“I know WDE will give me the best package possible, and I also know that everybody in the team is fully behind me. I learned so much from my team-mates Paul Rivett and Lee Pattison in 2017, from their knowledge of the car and breadth of racing experience, and that really shone through in my results as the season progressed. Hopefully they’ll both stick around for another year, and the team has already signed up a couple of other quick drivers, so it’s all beginning to take shape.
“The Renault UK Clio Cup is renowned for being an intensely competitive series, and I see no reason why 2018 will be any different – the calibre of the grid looks set to be extremely high, with a mix of returning drivers and new faces. History has shown that it generally takes a couple of years to be able to fight consistently at the front of the field, but that’s where we are now so we need to pick straight up again from where we left off four months ago – battling for podiums and race wins on a regular basis.
“Breaking my duck has to be the first aim, and I want to be pushing for a top three championship finish come season’s end. After coming so close last year, I’ll be doing everything I can to help WDE to win the Teams’ title, too.
“Last but far from least, I must express my gratitude for Evergreen’s continuing faith in me. This will be our fifth year working together, and their loyalty is testament to the value they derive from the partnership. I’m really looking forward to showing off my new livery and I’m proud to be a part of the Evergreen family – I think they’re just as excited for the upcoming season as I am!”
WDE Team Principal Wayne Eason has similarly lofty expectations for his highly-rated protégé this year, tipping the East Anglian teenager for success right from the off.
“Dan is more than capable of fighting for the title,” he asserted. “When he came to us last year, it’s fair to say he was damaged and suffering psychologically after enduring such a tough first season in the championship in 2016. His confidence was at rock-bottom and I think that showed in his race starts, which were an early Achilles’ heel and undoubtedly cost him some bigger results until we got on top of the situation, but his potential was very clear to see – as his stunning qualifying form at Donington Park and Thruxton proved – and as a team, we worked hard to help to rebuild Dan’s battered self-belief.
“One thing that has never been in doubt is his raw pace – Dan was one of the very quickest drivers in the field weekend-in, weekend-out – and his racecraft is phenomenal. He is also a fantastic ambassador for WDE. Indeed, we use him as an advert for the team as a young driver climbing the motorsport ladder. Juggling his racing commitments with his university studies is not an easy balance to strike, but the way he conducts himself through his attitude and approach to it all is impeccable. He is ultra-committed and really wants to succeed, and I can always rely on Dan to give 110 per cent both in and out of the car.
“He finished last season a totally different driver to how he had begun it, and his two podiums in the Brands Hatch finale were no less than he deserved for a stellar effort throughout. I spoke to [2017 champion] Mike Bushell after that weekend, and he was full of praise for Dan’s drive, saying he had him genuinely worried for the first few laps – and there weren’t too many drivers that truly concerned Mike last year. With that box ticked, the next goal is to win races – and if you can win races, there’s no reason at all why you can’t challenge for the championship.”