Renault UK Clio Cup front-runner shines in Dunlop-sponsored entry
Dan Zelos achieved what three-time British Touring Car Champion Matt Neal and multiple BTCC race-winner Rob Collard were unable to do earlier this year – reach the podium on his MINI CHALLENGE UK debut. And he enjoyed it so much, he did it twice...
Taking advantage of a break in his Renault UK Clio Cup schedule, Zelos entered last weekend’s eagerly-anticipated MINI Festival at Brands Hatch – the penultimate outing on the 2018 CHALLENGE calendar – behind the wheel of a 265bhp, Dunlop-shod and liveried guest entry.
Competing in the single-make and model series’ headlining JCW class – in the same car that Neal drove back in April – the talented young Norfolk ace qualified 11th on the 26-strong grid for race one, prevented from revealing his full hand by a mid-session damper failure.
Undeterred, Zelos showcased his skills to fight through to eighth in the curtain-raiser – a scant half-a-second adrift of the top six – before carefully navigating his way around an opening lap fracas to immediately advance to fifth at the start of race two.
He gained another spot a handful of laps later, and was the fastest of the top four in the closing stages as the lead quartet broke increasingly away from the pursuing pack. A late mistake by team-mate Jordan Collard elevated the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot to third, where he would remain to the chequered flag, barely 1.5 seconds shy of victory.
Zelos replicated that rostrum result in the reversed grid finale, held in very different conditions as torrential rain prompted a brace of stoppages. Demonstrating his deft touch in the wet and eye-catching car control, the 20-year-old Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student was primed to attack the two drivers ahead when the red flags flew for good nine laps in, halting his charge, but he could nevertheless reflect upon an extremely successful, reputation-enhancing weekend.
“What an enjoyable experience!” Zelos enthused. “It was a big learning curve for me and I need to say a massive ‘thank you’ to both Dunlop and MINI UK for giving me this opportunity – everybody made me feel very welcome from the outset and I’d like to wish the team and drivers all the best for the remaining round of the season.
“The MINI is a very different beast to my Clio so that took some adapting to, and the racing is really close and competitive, with the top seven or eight drivers in the series of a similar calibre to those in the UK Clio Cup, I’d say.
“Qualifying was certainly hectic – with 26 cars all fighting for space around Brands’ short Indy loop, getting a clear lap in was really difficult. Still, we were running consistently inside the top six until a rear damper failed, which hurt us through the right-hand corners. With the track getting quicker and quicker, that dropped us down the order to 11th, which wasn’t reflective of our true pace so I was really looking forward to getting stuck in during the races.
“My main preoccupation was the start, because I’d obviously never got the MINI off the line before, but thankfully it went well in race one and after that, I just focussed on capitalising upon other drivers’ errors and moving forward. We were struggling with a little bit of oversteer following a set-up change, but eighth place was nonetheless a very solid result.
“I got away well again in race two and avoided the first lap chaos, and then had a bit of a battle with Jordan [Collard] but at the same time, I was mindful of not wanting to interfere in his championship since he’s right up at the sharp end in the points table, so I didn’t fight him too hard.
“In race three, the rain made the track really treacherous and visibility was virtually non-existent. It was my first time driving the MINI in the wet, so it was very much of a case of in at the deep end but I’ve always been confident in those conditions.
“The car felt awesome and it was a shame the action was red-flagged early, because I was closing in on Ant Whorton-Eales and Nathan Harrison ahead and it would have been good to have had a shot at an even better result. Still, I was well-chuffed to come away with two podium finishes from the weekend – not a bad debut at all...”
Photo: Gary Hawkins Photography