Davanti Partner Dan Zelos made history in his second Mini Challenge winMonday 9th October 2023
After a season of breaking records, Dan Zelos peaks going on to being the first modern-era driver to win the Mini Challenge twice at the Brands Hatch racing circuit this weekend, following up on his first win in 2021 signalling an end to a dominant season.
Dan kept a measured approach during the free practice but turned it up in the qualifying. Although in a disjointed session, the racers encountered multiple stoppages, with Dan Zelos missing out on securing a clean sweep of pole positions for the year by barely a tenth of a second.
The front-row grid slot for the race ensured he was ahead of Will Orton, the driver who would have the ability to prevent him from securing his title, as well as former champions, Nathan Harrison and Sam Weller, but so as long as he remained in that position the title flag would be his.
Dan held his ground throughout the race focused on each and every corner, holding his ground against a determined Spencer Stevenson. Once shaken, he then focused on the leader, Sam Smith who was two seconds ahead.
Focusing on the goal, Zelos managed to reduce the deficit to less than four-tenths of a second waiting for the moment he could make a late-stage attack, bearing in mind that a runner-up position in the race would be enough. Unfortunately, Zelos lost his sixth gear in the final lap, deciding to safely follow Sam Smith across the line.
The second race started off well for Zelos, unfortunately a few corners in fluid began leaking out of his gearbox, smearing his windscreen and limiting his visibility, forcing him into a pit to resolve the problems.
Despite keeping up with the race leader in terms of speed, an unfortunate incident caused Dan to finish in 16th place at the end of the race. This set the stage for an impressive comeback in the third race, which was broadcast live on ITV4 and witnessed by a full-capacity crowd at the track. Zelos made remarkable progress by gaining seven positions within the first two laps. Ultimately, he finished in sixth place, missing out on a top-five position by a mere 0.062 seconds.
“It feels fantastic to win the MINI CHALLENGE for a second time,” enthused the former Norwich University of Arts and Dereham Sixth Form College student, who also lifted the series’ Rookie Cup laurels in 2019 and Graduate Cup honours in 2020. “This is such a competitive championship, and the level has been extremely high again this year. Will [Orton] has pushed me all the way, and it has been an absolute pleasure to race so closely against him.
“I really wanted to go for the win in race one at Brands Hatch and I tried to put Sam [Smith] under some pressure towards the end, but he didn’t put a foot wrong and with the championship in mind, I knew I needed to be sensible.
“After that, I was looking forward to going out and having some fun on Sunday. I got a mega start in race two, but sadly it was short-lived due to the gearbox fluid leak. Thankfully, the title was already in the bag, so we just focussed on giving it our all one last time in race three. I was in no mood to finish the weekend without a fight, and while it’s never easy to work your way through the field when everybody is in equal machinery, I was really pleased with the progress we made.
“It’s been such an incredible season overall – almost flawless, to be honest – and I owe a huge ‘thank you’ to EXCELR8 Motorsport. We stuck together after a really tough and demoralising 2022, and came back with no specific targets other than to enjoy each race and see where that took us. Obviously it turned out pretty well, and this title belongs every bit as much to all the amazing guys and girls in the team as it does to me – without them, none of this would have been possible.
“As to where we go next, it’s no secret that I want to move up to the BTCC, but for now, I’m just going to savour this moment…”