Dan Zelos is aiming to ‘pick up from where he left off’ when the MINI CHALLENGE races back into life at Snetterton next weekend (12/13 June), as the talented young Norfolk ace seeks to launch his 2021 title bid with a champagne celebration on home turf.
Zelos has been one of the leading protagonists in the fiercely-disputed single-make series for the past two seasons, placing third overall in 2019 before improving to second last year in the headlining JCW class – and clinching both the ‘Rookie Cup’ and ‘Graduate Cup’ trophies along the way.
The EXCELR8 Motorsport BTCC Development Driver’s tally of seven podium finishes from 13 starts in 2020 – taking the chequered flag within a second of victory on three occasions – was unrivalled in the high-calibre, 34-strong MINI CHALLENGE field, and three of those rostrum results came in the final four races.
Zelos is endeavouring to maintain that burgeoning momentum over the course of the forthcoming campaign, when he has a third consecutive crown in his sights – the big one this time. The 22-year-old will head into battle with a spring in his step following a productive and constructive pre-season testing programme at Snetterton and Croft, where he swiftly settled back into the groove after almost six months away from the cockpit of his distinctive Davanti Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored MINI.
Next weekend, Zelos will return to his local circuit – at which he has reached the podium in both the MINI CHALLENGE and Ginetta Junior Championship in the past – eager to put on a show for the 4,000 spectators expected to attend following the partial easing of restrictions.
As he prepares to tackle what is, at just shy of three miles, the longest lap in the country, the highly-rated Dereham-born hotshot and British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star hopes the fervent support of his home crowd will help to spur him on to success.
“This is my third full year with EXCELR8, and the importance of that continuity genuinely can’t be overstated,” stressed Zelos, a former Norwich University of Arts and Dereham Sixth Form College student. “We all know and understand how each other works, and that makes for a very fluid, natural and easy relationship.
“We finished last season really strongly, so the aim is very much to keep the ball rolling and pick up again from where we left off. Looking at the entry list, it’s clearly going to be just as tough as the past couple of years, if not even tougher, with most of the leading drivers coming back. I’ve also got some very fast team-mates who will unquestionably keep me on my toes!
“We would obviously have liked to do a bit more testing ahead of the first event, but that was all we could manage budget-wise, and we made the most of the running we did get. I was a little bit rusty at Snetterton following the long break, but I felt much more comfortable at Croft, which is a big confidence circuit, so that was really encouraging. It’s also somewhere I hadn’t been since 2018, so to be so quick there was a very positive sign.
“The EXCELR8 boys and girls have done a great job of re-prepping my MINI over the winter, and it felt really well dialled-in at Croft and ran faultlessly, which allowed us to put plenty of laps on the board. It’s always difficult to judge relative pace in testing because everybody is working to their own agenda, but we’re pleased with the progress we made and think we’re in the ballpark.
“The key to success in such a large and competitive field – especially with the reversed grid races – will be consistency, and that has always been one of my strengths. I’m hopeful we can go to Snetterton and fight for podium finishes and race wins right from the outset. As a track, it’s got a little bit of everything, from fast corners calling for maximum commitment to technical, slow-speed hairpins and some good overtaking opportunities. There’s a lot of time to be gained or lost around the lap, and that’s a challenge I really enjoy.
“I’ve never started the season at my home circuit before, so I’m really looking forward to that, and it will be fantastic to see spectators trackside for the first time in well over a year. It’s a totally different atmosphere when you’re racing in front of a live crowd; the energy and enthusiasm that the fans bring gives you such a boost. They’re the lifeblood of our sport, and it’s awesome to finally have them back!”
The 2021 MINI CHALLENGE will additionally enjoy live coverage on ITV4 in its role as an official support series to the immensely popular British Touring Car Championship – the UK’s premier motorsport platform.
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