Dan Zelos left nobody in any doubt about his scintillating raw pace and potential with an eye-catchingly determined performance in the prestigious annual ‘O’ Plate meeting at Rowrah, and even if he ultimately left empty-handed, he did so with his reputation very much enhanced.
Having produced ultra-competitive lap times and evinced expert racecraft in the opening two rounds of the fiercely-contested national Super 1 Series in 2012 – only to find himself routinely out-of-luck – Dan headed to demanding Cumbrian circuit Rowrah preparing to go up against an extremely high-calibre Mini Max class field composed of the majority of the British front-runners. And rightly fancying his chances.
“I was feeling quite optimistic,” affirmed the talented young Dereham-based speed demon. “Rowrah is my favourite circuit and the team’s home track, and we’d been really quick there in testing in both wet and dry. It’s where I achieved my first win in Mini Max, too, earlier this year, so that was a confidence boost.
“It’s challenging and undulating with a great variety of corners, and you have to get every single one of them right if you want to set a good lap time because it’s always extremely tight – you can’t afford to let your concentration slip, even for a split-second. You need to be absolutely ‘on it’ all the time.”
With the recent downpours seeming to soak pretty much everywhere in the UK except for Rowrah, Dan proceeded to qualify a close sixth amongst the 21 Mini Max contenders, thereby positioning himself immediately in the ballpark. Unfortunately, an engine issue the following day ruled the Northgate High School pupil out of the morning practice session, denying him the opportunity to assess the track conditions and leaving him to enter his two heat races somewhat on the back foot.
That being the case, sixth place following a lively tussle in the first of them and fourth – barely a second-and-a-half adrift of the winner – in the other marked an excellent outcome, and earned Dan fourth on the starting grid for the next day’s pre-final.
“I picked off the three drivers ahead of me and took the lead halfway through,” recollected the Tooley Motorsport hotshot. “I began to open up a bit of a gap, but then I hit a bump that pitched me off the track and sent me bouncing violently across the grass, and I lost all the ground I had made up and more as well!
“My chassis was dented after an impact with a rock, too, but I had to just concentrate on trying to work my way back through, and I had recovered as far as second place when on the last lap, I got a big nudge from behind and was passed on both sides. I was squeezed in-between two other karts and the contact dropped me way down the field again. That was massively frustrating, because I was sure I could have won, even after my earlier mistake. I knew I had the pace, though, so it just left me even more fired-up for the grand final.”
Fourteenth spot at the chequered flag was infinitely less representative of Dan’s true form than was the fifth-fastest lap time that he set – a mere two tenths of a second shy of the best. He would get even closer to the leading pace in the all-important grand final later in the day, lapping quicker than the race-winner before once more finding himself on the receiving end of a rival’s over-ambition.
“I battled through and managed to latch onto the back of the leading pack,” the 14-year-old recalled. “I made my way into second, but then on the penultimate lap, another driver put me straight off the track, dropping me to tenth. After that, because everybody was so competitive, it was difficult to make up a place without risking losing one at the same time, but I managed to regain two positions on the last lap to finish eighth.
“The racing was incredibly tough, with lots of contact and people going off left, right and centre – you really had to fight your corner hard. With the nature of the ‘O’ Plate and the fact that there were no championship points to play for, it was effectively win-or-bust. It was definitely the hardest racing I’ve experienced in Mini Max so far, and it taught me a lot. I now know that I need to toughen up a bit and take more risks if I’m going to win at national level.
“It was an eye-opener, but there were many reasons for encouragement, too, and when we return to Rowrah for Super 1 later this month, we know we’ve got the pace to challenge. The end result was far from what we had been aiming for, but I’m definitely a stronger driver for the experience and hopefully that will show through in the future.”
If you are interested in getting involved in life in the fast lane by sponsoring Dan, please contact his dad Andy at: firstname.lastname@example.org