Dan Zelos will make the full-time move to the MINI CHALLENGE in 2019, as the talented young Norfolk racer continues to inch ever-closer to his ultimate objective – a coveted race seat in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Zelos has spent the last five years competing on the BTCC undercard, initially in Ginetta Juniors and – for the past three seasons – the Renault UK Clio Cup. During that time, the 20-year-old has tallied no fewer than 59 top ten finishes and 18 podiums in what are by common consent two of the toughest single-make series in the country. Along the way, he has won races, qualified on pole position, broken lap records and even earned himself a test outing in a BTCC car.
Having consistently proven his pace and potential in Clios – and following a successful one-off appearance in the MINI CHALLENGE at Brands Hatch last summer that yielded two rostrum finishes from three starts – Zelos has decided the time is ripe for a change. What’s more, with the iconic Mini celebrating its 60th birthday this year and the MINI CHALLENGE set to join the BTCC support package from 2020, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot is coming on-board just as momentum is truly beginning to grow.
Proudly supported by new partner CAM Systems and entered in the headlining JCW class – whose champion’s prize is an end-of-season BTCC test-drive – Zelos will take to the grid for the MINI UK VIP outfit, with his UK Clio Cup mechanic Dan Cusick similarly making the switch to add some key continuity.
Beginning at Oulton Park in Cheshire over the weekend of 20-22 April, the 2019 MINI CHALLENGE will go on to visit Silverstone’s legendary Formula 1 circuit and Brands Hatch’s Indy and classic GP layouts, with repeat trips to Zelos’ home track of Snetterton and Donington Park, both of which are major events for his title sponsor, Evergreen Tyres. Six of the eight rounds will take place on the same bill as the high-profile British GT Championship.
With two days’ testing already under his belt behind the wheel of his potent 265bhp ‘pocket rocket’ – based upon the third-generation F56 MINI Hatch – and one more planned before next month’s curtain-raiser, the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student is fast finding his feet in his new surroundings and is eager to show what he is made of.
“As a series, there’s no question that the MINI CHALLENGE is growing in profile,” Zelos acknowledged. “The recent announcement that it will join the BTCC support package in 2020 means even more eyes will be on it this year, so it’s the perfect time to make the jump.
“It looks like being a full grid, which is sure to produce some great racing and I’m enjoying the car – it reminds me of the short BTCC test I had a few years ago. We’ve been there-or-thereabouts in both wet and dry conditions during testing, which is obviously encouraging, and I’m feeling more comfortable and confident in the MINI every time I take to the track.
“Outright pace is not actually the biggest challenge – I don’t think we’ve got too much to worry about in that department – it’s getting up-to-speed quickly that is going to take a little more time, since the tyre characteristics are very different to what I’ve been used to in the past. I need to figure out how to turn it on straightaway, but we’re getting there in that respect.
“Ultimately, I drove the Clio for three years and by the end, I knew it inside-out. It’s always difficult to adapt to a new car after that length of time, but I already feel good inside the MINI and following the three races at Brands Hatch last summer, I at least know how to get it off the line so that’s one less thing to have to learn!
“Being able to bring my mechanic Dan with me from Clios is a major positive. It eases the transition to a new team, and he has got his head around the MINI very quickly during testing. We’ve got a very strong relationship and have complete trust in one another, and we know how to have a laugh in-between all the serious stuff, too, which is important when you spend so much time together over a race weekend.
“The aim is definitely to start the season on the front foot and hit the ground running at Oulton Park. It’s a completely clean slate and a fresh challenge with fresh competition, but I’m more than up for the fight!”
Zelos’ sentiments are shared by MINI UK VIP Team Owner Justina Williams and MINI CHALLENGE Championship Promoter Antony Williams, who both predict great things of the East Anglian ace over the coming months.
“We really enjoyed working with Dan when he made a guest appearance for the MINI UK team in the MINI CHALLENGE in 2018, so to now have the opportunity to work with him in 2019 for a full-season championship assault is doubly exciting,” said Justina Williams. “What really impresses with Dan is his methodical approach to the race weekend and his understanding that to win there needs to be a focus on the finest details. We look forward to him being on the podium numerous times throughout the year.”
“Dan has shown his class in the UK Clio Cup over the last few seasons, so to now see him take on a full season in the MINI CHALLENGE will be truly exciting, especially considering we will be moving to the BTCC package for 2020,” echoed Antony Williams. “Dan is a very professional race driver who always represents himself, his team and the championship in a mature and positive way. I am sure this approach will bring dividends this season and hopefully in seasons to come.”