Dan Zelos signed off what has been a truly outstanding maiden campaign in the fiercely-contested Ginetta Junior Championship in 2014 with an incredible ninth podium finish in the Brands Hatch finale – sending him into the winter off-season riding the crest of a wave.
On his first visit to Brands’ GP layout – a legendary circuit in the ‘old-school’ mould – Zelos lapped third-quickest on Friday, although a combination of wet weather and an endless succession of red flags made for little meaningful running.
The gifted Norfolk ace then stole the headlines the next morning by topping the timesheets in final practice, but a disjointed qualifying session due to yet more red flags left him a disappointed seventh on the grid for race one and fourth for race two amongst the 20 high-calibre contenders – a phenomenally strong field by any standards. Traffic, a lack of rear balance and persistent engine issues all served to add to the drama.
His JHR Developments crew worked hard on his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Ginetta G40 before the opening encounter, and on a damp-but-drying track, Zelos made a superb getaway when the lights went out only to find himself boxed in behind a gaggle of slower-starting drivers ahead.
After artfully avoiding an early scare when a rival spun directly across his bows, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot settled into sixth position and had homed right in on his fifth-placed team-mate when the safety car appeared for an accident at the end of lap three. With fading light, the action never resumed, leaving Zelos a frustrated sixth when he knew he had the potential for much more.
In the following day’s ITV4 live-televised outing, the 16-year-old Dereham Sixth Form College AS-Level student produced another excellent start and boldly held his nerve around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend to slot into second. The race soon developed into a three-way tussle for supremacy as the pursuing pack fell away behind, and whilst he did not have the ultimate edge to take the fight to his two adversaries, third place nonetheless represented a remarkable ninth rostrum of his fledgling car racing career.
Indeed, a swift glance at the statistics of Zelos’ season reveals the magnitude of his accomplishment this year. Laudably consistent, he saw the chequered flag in all 20 races – one of just three drivers to do so – claimed 15 top ten finishes, reached the podium in nearly half of his starts, beat no fewer than six second-year protagonists, wound up a magnificent fourth out of 23 in the final standings and put barely a scratch on his car along the way.
Not only that, but he was the fastest and highest-scoring JHR competitor over the second half of the campaign – his title-winning team-mate included. All-in-all, it augurs well for 2015...
“The season has absolutely flown by!” the East Anglian teenager reflected. “It seemed like just a handful of weeks ago that I was at Brands Hatch for the first round making my championship debut. It was good to be back, and I feel a completely different driver now – the nerves have been replaced by excitement and ambition. Seven months ago, I was blown away by sneaking into the top ten in qualifying, whereas this time, I was frustrated at not making the top five...
“I really enjoy the GP Circuit – it’s one of my favourite tracks on the calendar, without question. It’s fast-and-flowing with cambered corners, and it presents a genuine challenge. It encourages risks and rewards the brave.
“It took me a little bit of time to find the confidence and grip at the beginning of the first race because it was extremely slippery and conditions were changing with every lap, but once I felt more comfortable I closed in on the drivers ahead – and then the safety car came out and that was that! I reckon I could probably have fought for the podium had it run to its full distance.
“In Sunday’s race, I could hang onto the two leaders, but we didn’t have the outright pace to be able to attack. We extracted the maximum available, though, and I certainly couldn’t complain about another podium finish!
“I’m over-the-moon with the way my first season in car racing has gone, with what we’ve achieved and the progress we’ve made. We’ve taken a huge step forward since the beginning of the year and I’ve learned so much. I still can’t quite believe I’ve ended up fourth in the championship!
“I owe a massive debt of gratitude to the entire team at JHR, my main sponsor Evergreen Tyres and everybody else who has supported me. There’s some hard work ahead now over the winter so we can come out all guns blazing next year. Let’s see if we can go even better in 2015!”
*The Ginetta Junior Championship is one of the key support series to the high-profile Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), enabling precociously talented 14-to-17-year-olds to earn their racing spurs before they can even legally drive on the road.
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