Dan Zelos is determined to kick-start his 2018 Renault UK Clio Cup campaign at his favourite circuit – Thruxton – later this month after ill-fortune conspired to deny the Evergreen Tyres-backed Dereham Dynamo at Donington Park last weekend (28/29 April).
Having eliminated hias persistent gearbox issues from the previous round, Zelos was hopeful of better luck at Donington. A productive practice day – yielding 47 laps and the sixth-fastest time in both sessions behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio – suggested he was on the right track.
When the weather threw a curve-ball – mixed conditions in qualifying turning tyre choice into a lottery – Zelos found himself well down the order in 16th place. But the Norfolk teenager rejoined the fray in the closing moments for one final, last-ditch attempt. With the pressure on, he delivered an error-free lap to vault up the order into seventh – best-placed of the WDE Motorsport quintet.
He was also the quickest of the drivers on wet rubber, but time was not on his side and he had to begin race two – based on second-fastest laps – from an uncharacteristically lowly 15th.
The highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot steered clear of trouble around the course of a chaotic opening lap the next morning to climb to sixth and, following a short safety car intervention, immediately set about sizing up fifth spot.
But cool tyres meant Zelos soon found himself in seventh and defending his position against championship leader Max Coates. It was an excellent defensive effort, and his dogged persistence was rewarded when his tyres truly came ‘into the window’ with five laps to go and he began to hunt down Zak Fulk in sixth.
Almost pulling off an eye-catching round-the-outside pass into Redgate Corner, the 19-year-old was tagged, sent careering off the track, through the gravel trap and down to 12th place, where he ultimately finished.
It was a similar story in race two. Heading into the first corner, Zelos was unceremoniously punted sideways and sent half-spinning onto the grass, needing to call upon all of his skill to rescue the situation – although the delay dropped him to the tail of the field, six seconds behind the pack.
Lapping a full eight tenths-of-a-second quicker than the leader – and remaining consistently one of the fastest drivers on the circuit – the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate dug deep and fought his way back through to 12th by the end, less than a second adrift of the top 10 in a magnificent recovery.
Disappointed, Zelos has already turned his attentions towards the next stop on the fiercely-disputed Renault UK Clio Cup calendar at Thruxton (19/20 May), a track that has always been a happy hunting ground for him and the scene of his breakthrough car racing victory in only his ninth start four years ago.
The former Dereham Sixth Form College student is the current circuit lap record-holder in Clios, averaging in excess of 100mph around Thruxton’s flat-out sweepers in 2017. Little wonder he is so keen to return.
“Donington Park started off with promise in free practice, and while we still had some work to do, I was generally a lot happier than I had been at Brands Hatch and felt like we were progressing in the right direction,” Zelos reflected.
“Unfortunately, what happened in qualifying left us firmly on the back foot. The track was extremely damp initially, but when I came in to change over to a new set of wet tyres, it began drying out. That prompted a switch to slicks, but we really struggled to generate any heat in the rears.
“We had similar trouble with the tyres on Sunday morning. I was able to push a lot harder though and take the fight to the guys ahead. In clear air, we set some really fast lap times. I pulled off a great move around the outside of Fulk for sixth, but he drove straight into the side of me and whilst he received a verbal warning for it, that obviously didn’t give me the result back.
“Then in race two, the clutch wouldn’t engage properly at the start and the revs kept dropping to zero, which compromised my launch away from the grid. I had a couple of good battles at the end, but narrowly ran out of time to crack the top ten.
“On the positive side, our race pace was strong again but as a team, we have to get on top of our qualifying issues because when you start further back in the pack, you are instantly vulnerable as was proved at Donington – I honestly felt like I had a target painted on my car!
“Mental concentration and physical fitness are key factors when things like this happen and I’ve been working hard with my personal trainer Paul Suggitt in both areas to ensure I’m absolutely on top form. Hopefully those efforts will pay off.”