It was unanimously agreed that the Comer Cadet class grand final in the 2011 edition of Kartmasters was the race of the day at PF International – and not only did Dan Zelos play a leading role in it, he also came away with a brace of trophies for his gritty performance.
Kartmasters is the indisputable blue riband event on the British karting calendar, a prestigious outing in which everybody wants to shine – and arguably the most eagerly-contested of the season for it. Having enjoyed little good fortune in his two previous appearances, Dan headed to Lincolnshire circuit PF to pit himself against the very crème de la crème of young British driving talent – and fully intent on making it third time lucky.
“I had already won at PF in Super 1,” reflected the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot, referring to the fiercely-fought national series in which he has proven himself to be a consistent front-runner this year, “so I was feeling very confident that I could finish inside the top five at Kartmasters. I love the track; it’s our ‘home’ circuit, and I’ve raced there for quite a few years. All the top guys were there, and because it’s a one-off meeting, everybody was just going for it. That made it really difficult, and you had to be prepared for anything...”
Quick throughout practice as he experimented with different set-ups on his Prima Racing kart, Dan went on to qualify a superb fourth in the 27-strong field, less than a tenth of a second adrift of the benchmark. Optimistic about his prospects from there, unfortunately, his two heat races would go far from according to-plan.
“It’s really bad starting on the outside line at PF,” the Northgate High School pupil explained, quipping that it is all-too-easy to get ‘mullered’ by the opposition. “If you don’t get across to the inside, you’ve just got to pray, basically! You’ve got to be on the inside for the first corner...
“In the first heat, I went into the first hairpin on lap one and just felt a huge shunt from behind; that sent me straight off and left me right down at the rear of the field – but I fought my way back through to finish ninth in the end.
“In the second heat, I knew I had to try to get across to the inside and get safely round the first lap, and then I could go for it. I did get over to the inside and moved into second place by the first corner, which was really good, but the next thing I saw was a nosecone jumping over the kerbs and straight into the side of me. I got hit so hard that I went up into the air and my chain came off.”
Game over on the spot and leaving Dan with a badly-bent chassis to-boot, a good degree of work was required ahead of the following day’s pre-final, which the 13-year-old would begin just 18th – again, on the unenviable outside line...
“I went into the first hairpin on the first lap, and there were three karts in front of me that came together,” he recollected. “Two of them got tangled up and the other went spearing off onto the grass, and the only escape route I had was going over the kerb, which slowed me right down.
“I rejoined second-to-last like in heat two, and I was so annoyed that I was gripping the steering wheel so hard I could almost have broken it! I got my head down, though, and all I concentrated on was going forward. I kept pushing with one of my team-mates and ended up coming through to ninth. There were a few tweaks I could have done with on the kart and engine, but we sorted all that for the grand final.”
Setting the race’s fastest lap along the way for good measure – almost a quarter-of-a-second quicker than the winner’s best effort – Dan’s magnificent charge in the face of adversity meant he had hauled himself back into the ballpark for the all-important grand final.
“I pushed my way through on the inside on the first lap,” he went on. “After the first corner, I was up to fifth – and by the end of the next lap, I was third. Three of us pulled away at the front and then about six laps in, myself and Daniel Ticktum broke clear. I led for the next ten laps, and there was a lot of pressure because there was a five-kart pack chasing us, so we had to keep on pushing and not fight too soon or we knew they would catch us and we would get dragged into a fight.
“We built up enough of a gap, though, and I went into the last lap in the lead. Entering the second hairpin, I saw Ticktum on my outside, but I didn’t think he would be able to get the cutback on me; that was a mistake, because I ran wide on the exit and he zipped past. I spent the rest of the lap trying to force him into an error, and then coming through the last corner I got a better run and pulled right up alongside him...”
In a true dead-heat at the chequered flag, the general consensus in the grandstands was that Dan had it, but the timing screens said otherwise and awarded the victory to British title favourite Ticktum by a scant hundredth of a second. If the finish line had been just a few yards further up the track, the outcome would have been altogether different.
Still, not only did Norfolk’s resident speed demon ably confirm that he is incontrovertibly one of the leading contenders in Cadets, but any frustration at missing out on the top step of the podium was swiftly assuaged when he was presented with the coveted Bruno Ferrari memorial trophy – in honour of the former multiple British Karting Champion – for his outstanding performance over the weekend, beating some 43 other drivers to clinch it. When his name was announced as its recipient, Dan’s surprise and delight were palpable.
“I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t win, but it was still a really good result,” he acknowledged. “Both Daniel and I drove a brilliant race – and I’m told it was really exciting to watch! It’s definitely raised my confidence. Some people had said I got a lucky win in Super 1, but I think this has proved I’m one of the drivers to beat now – everywhere.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Dan’s driver coach and Prima Cadet team manager Paul Munn, who is encouraged by the progress his protégé has made thus far in what is undeniably a breakthrough year for him in the sport.
“I think it was one of the best performances Dan has put in so far,” he underlined. “From the bad luck he had in the second heat and then getting knocked down to second-to-last again in the pre-final, he drove really well to come back through to ninth place, with fastest lap as well.
“In the grand final, he then had a great first lap and promptly took the lead before engaging in a race-long battle with Ticktum. On the last lap, it was really close between the two of them and unfortunately, Dan just got pipped by a hundredth of a second, but it was still a really positive result. His overtaking was probably the best I’ve ever seen from him – superb – and he can really take that forward now.”
If you are interested in getting involved in life in the fast lane by sponsoring Dan, please contact his dad Andy at: email@example.com