Dan Zelos was the fastest driver in the field in the Mini Challenge at Oulton Park as he strengthened his push for the drivers championship title.
Despite his second race ending early due to a red flag, the talented Davanti Tyres-backed racer from Dereham maintained the momentum gained in his Brands Hatch win last month as he aims for the overall crown this season.
Zelos immediately threw down the gauntlet at the Cheshire circuit, posting the six quickest laps of the day during free practice, more than eight tenths-of-a-second clear of any of his 28 high-calibre rivals.
The Excelr8 Motorsport British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) Development Driver similarly topped the timesheets for the majority of the 30-minute qualifying session. Team-mate Max Bird stole in towards the end of the session to take pole by just 0.010s but all eyes were on Zelos.
Fired-up to turn the tables in race one, Zelos had a look at taking the lead on the opening lap but was unable to quite make a move stick. Undeterred, he remained glued to Bird’s rear bumper as the peerless pair sped swiftly away from their pursuers.
He kept the pressure on Bird right to the end, snaring an extra six points for his second fastest lap of the campaign and outpacing all of his adversaries on nine of the race’s 13 laps en route to the runner-up spoils.
From sixth on the partially-reversed grid the next day, in front of the live television cameras and – for the first time in almost two years – a full trackside crowd, British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star Zelos made a superb start and held his nerve all the way around the outside of the first corner to advance to fourth.
Heading onto lap two, he then snatched third before quickly latching onto the tail of the leaders as the trio broke clear of the chasing pack.
Zelos was sizing up a move for second when the race was red-flagged on lap four following a roll for Jim Loukes.
At the re-start, he boldly threaded the needle between the two front row sitters ahead to seize the initiative on the run down towards Cascades. No sooner had he reached the front, however, than the action was halted again – this time for good – due to a second barrel-roll directly behind involving Zelos’ Excelr8 stablemate Oliver Barker.
With the result being counted back to the first stoppage, Zelos was awarded third place.
“I guess you’d call that a weekend of ‘what ifs’,” said the 23-year-old. “Oulton Park is a massive confidence track. Right from the word go, I was really confident in the car and able to push to the limit on every single lap, which is a great feeling to have.
“It was great to see the fans back out in force on Sunday, which gave the whole place a real buzz. I could tell straight away that I had a strong car underneath me for race two which allowed me to really go on the attack and it was disappointing not to come away with the win, but we need to keep everything in perspective.
“My thoughts and condolences go out to the family of the marshal involved in the terrible accident at Brands Hatch. The most important thing from Oulton Park was that Ollie Barker was ok. All I saw in my rear-view mirror was a car flying up in the air, which isn’t something I ever want to see again, and for him to emerge virtually unscathed is testament to the incredible strength and safety of these Minis.”
It’s a quick turnaround for Zelos now as the Mini Challenge heads to Scotland’s Knockhill for the next three races on August 14-15.