Victory for Zelos gives Mini Challenge campaign an early boostMonday 28th June 2021
A masterclass in overtaking saw Davanti Tyres’ driver Dan Zelos claim his first race win of the Mini Challenge season at the legendary Brands Hatch.
The Dereham ace, racing once more with Team Excelr8, hasn’t topped the podium in over a year but in the reversed grid of race three stormed from fourth to the top spot, taking the chequered flag just over four seconds ahead of James McIntyre.
Having finished third and second respectively in the previous two seasons in the fiercely-disputed single-make series, BRDC Rising Star Zelos entered the current campaign as one of the favourites for outright honours – but a disappointing curtain-raiser on home soil at Snetterton earlier this month left him just fifth in the standings heading to Brands Hatch, and determined to climb the table.
After putting more than 50 laps on the board throughout free practice – winding up third-quickest at the end of the two sessions around the short Indy loop – the former Rookie Cup and Graduate Cup Champion went into qualifying full of optimism. Unfortunately, rear damper failure left him struggling for speed and restricted him to a lowly 11th on the starting grid amongst the 30 high-calibre contenders – at the scene of his maiden Mini Challenge pole position two years earlier.
That left Zelos with a lot of work to do in the races, but he produced a series of incisive overtaking manoeuvres on a circuit where passing is tough to rise to seventh within the opening 10 laps, unleashing great pace behind the wheel of his distinctive, Davanti Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored Mini as he fought his way up the order.
The Excelr8 Motorsport BTCC Development driver could not get past Kenan Dole to take a podium place, but there were two more opportunities for glory.
In colder, windier and damper conditions on Sunday, Zelos again went on the attack. After pulling off a superb move on erstwhile championship leader Lewis Brown for sixth into Surtees, he swiftly caught Saturday nemesis Dole and wasted no time at all in despatching him to advance to fifth. On a charge and with the bit between his teeth, the highly-rated Dereham-born hotshot then rapidly zeroed in on James MacIntyre and pounced for fourth place approaching mid-distance.
Zelos subsequently reduced a 2.3-second deficit to Max Coates to just a quarter-of-a-second at the chequered flag, benefitting from a last lap coming-together between the two leaders to cross the finish line in third for a thoroughly well-deserved first podium finish of the campaign – which later became the runner-up spoils when the winner was disqualified.
From fifth on the partially-reversed grid in front of the live ITV television cameras, 23-year-old Zelos made a blistering start to the final race. He swiftly snatched second by artfully avoiding contact ahead on the exit of Paddock Hill Bend, and then exploited an overlap on Jason Lockwood at the beginning of lap four to pass him on the inside into Druids and grab the top spot.
The safety car emerged not long after to deal with an incident further back in the field, and at the re-start, Zelos firmly got the hammer down, posting the fastest three laps of the race and displaying astonishing consistency to wind up more than four seconds clear of his closest pursuer at the flag and celebrate an overdue return to victory lane.
His maximum points haul vaulted Zelos to the top of the championship standings, meaning it is very much game on for the remainder of the season.
“Saturday was a frustrating day to say the least, but it was certainly the best Sunday I’ve had in a while!” Zelos reflected. “It was clear that something wasn’t right with the car in qualifying, and when I came into the pits midway through the session, I looked at the lap times on the monitor and thought, ‘I can’t even get close to that’.
“That not only left us much further down the grid than we should have been and put us on the back foot again, but it also prompted a busy turnaround before race one. The Excelr8 crew did a fantastic job to resolve the issue and despite the difficulty of overtaking at Brands Indy, we gained some good ground until I came up to Kenan Dole, who defended really well and properly parked a bus in my way for the last few laps!
“We continued moving forward in race two, with some enjoyable battles and overtakes. I was really gunning for Max [Coates] in the closing stages and if I’d had just one more lap, I’m pretty confident I could have set him up for a move into Paddock Hill Bend, but I was still thrilled to come away with my first podium of the year.
“I then had a positive feeling before race three and after the first lap I thought to myself, ‘this one’s mine’. I knew I had the car underneath me, and as soon as the safety car lights went out, I concentrated on getting my head down and getting away. I was over-the-moon, and to be able to share the moment with my family made it even sweeter.
“It feels like a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders, because I’ve proved to myself and everybody else that I can still win races. Although we scored a lot of podiums last year, not getting a win did prey on my mind – and I didn’t think it was going to happen at Brands Hatch after the way qualifying went!
“It was a great way to reward all the Excelr8 guys and girls who put in so much hard graft all weekend – I’m incredibly thankful to each and every one of them. We can really begin building some momentum from this, because I certainly don’t plan on stopping now. The championship starts here!”