Dan Zelos is fired-up to fight for the title in this year’s MINI CHALLENGE, as the fiercely-disputed, single-make series’ 2020 campaign finally gets underway in just over a week’s time – and the talented young Norfolk ace is confident of ‘hitting the ground running’ at Donington Park on 1/2 August.
Last year, Zelos was one of the standout performers in the MINI CHALLENGE’s headlining JCW class, lifting the ‘Rookie Cup’ laurels at the end of a hugely impressive maiden season that saw him tally two race wins, three pole positions, four fastest laps and nine podium finishes on his way to a superb third in the overall points table amongst the 40 high-calibre protagonists.
This year, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot returns as one of the leading contenders from the outset, as he rejoins the fray with EXCELR8 Motorsport behind the wheel of his newly-liveried, Davanti Tyres and CAM Systems-sponsored MINI.
Although the complications caused by COVID-19 mean the calendar has had to be reduced from eight race weekends to five, Zelos has achieved success at each of the circuits the series is set to visit over the coming months in support of the immensely popular, all-action Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship, watched by some 20 million television viewers live on ITV4.
At both Knockhill (29/30 August) and Silverstone (26/27 September), he reached the rostrum in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2015. Snetterton (24/25 October) is his home track and the scene of four top six finishes in the Renault UK Clio Cup, while at Brands Hatch Indy – which will stage the season finale on 14/15 November – 22-year-old Zelos sped to pole position, two fastest laps and three podiums in the 2019 MINI CHALLENGE.
For now, though, all attentions are focussed firmly on Donington Park, where the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star secured his first car racing pole in Clios in 2017 and battled his way to a brilliant victory in the MINI CHALLENGE last summer. Just under 11 months on, he is aiming to pick up from where he left off.
“I have a full year in both the series and car under my belt, and I felt race-ready before the action got postponed, so now I’m doubly raring to go and to enjoy a season that for a while we feared might never happen,” enthused former Norwich University of Arts and Dereham Sixth Form College student Zelos.
“We’ve only had one day of testing since lockdown ended, which was at a wet, windy and wild Snetterton. That meant we couldn’t take away too much information, but despite not having sat in the MINI for three months, I immediately felt good in the car and we were consistently quick from the get-go. I’ve also been working hard on my fitness during the break and both physically and mentally, I feel in the best shape I’ve ever been heading into a new campaign.
“There look to be a lot of fast drivers in the field – the calibre of the competition seems to have stepped up another notch since the MINI CHALLENGE joined the TOCA package – but I feel very comfortable at EXCELR8 and made a lot of progress over the course of last year, so I’m confident we’ll be right up at the sharp end again.
“It’s a shame there are only five race weekends on the calendar rather than the eight originally scheduled, but the situation is clearly quite unique at the moment and they’re five great circuits. For me, this is the best compromise that could have been reached – all of the tracks we visit should produce exciting racing, and I honestly can’t think of a better ‘high-stakes’ finale than Brands Hatch Indy in the middle of November!
“First up, though, it’s Donington, where I obviously have happy memories from last season. With fewer races this year, it will be important to hit the ground running and – like Davanti Tyres, who have been a really supportive partner through all the recent uncertainty – the aim is to set the pace and be ‘Leading the Way’ from the start. After such a long and frustrating pause, that tingling feeling when you’re sitting on the grid waiting for the lights to go out is going to be simply unreal – I can’t wait!”