He might be in his rookie campaign at Mini Max level in 2012, but Dan Zelos gave absolutely nothing away to his adversaries in the blue riband annual Kartmasters meeting at PF International – as a dominant qualifying and pre-final performance saw him take on and defeat the very best in the country.
Zelos travelled to PF with an excellent record around the Lincolnshire circuit, having stormed to his breakthrough national success there in the keenly-contested Super 1 Series’ Comer Cadet class in 2011, and not long after produced a stirring charge from 18th on the grid to come within a gnat’s whisker of victory in a Kartmasters photo-finish. All-told, the gifted young Norfolk speed demon was confident about his prospects.
“We’d been quick there during testing, so I was feeling pretty optimistic and looking forward to it,” he acknowledged. “I’ve driven at PF a lot, so I know the track well, and the new, longer layout has made it even more challenging and enjoyable. It’s quite bumpy and undulating now, which means you need to always be alert.”
Zelos was indubitably on top form in qualifying, as he sped to a comfortable pole position out of the 36 Mini Max contenders present – the indisputable crème de la crème of British driving talent at that level. Praising a ‘spot-on’ job from his Tooley Motorsport mechanics, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot was in bullish mood indeed as the heat races approached.
“I didn’t get the best of starts in the first of them and dropped to fourth,” he confessed. “After that, it was a really fierce battle at the front, and I was happy enough to finish third. The most important thing was to avoid any issues to secure a good starting position for the finals, given that last year, two retirements in the heats had left me down at the wrong end of the pre-final grid.
“I led quite a lot of the second heat under pressure from several drivers behind, but then on the penultimate lap one of them lunged me and forced me wide, and four karts came past. With so little time left, it was difficult to regain ground, but I managed to recover one place to finish fourth.
“In the third heat it rained, and given my lack of seat time in the wet in Mini Max, I struggled with the kart a bit in those conditions; it was sliding around a lot and difficult to control. In the circumstances, although finishing sixth wasn’t what we had been hoping for, it was at least a finish.”
What’s more, it was a finish that earned Zelos fourth spot on the pre-final grid, from where he would waste little time in swiftly re-asserting his supremacy.
“I got a good start and managed to cut across to the inside in time for Turn One to move immediately up into third,” he recounted. “Heading down towards the first hairpin, I passed the driver in second and then at the end of the next lap I grabbed the lead on the main straight.
“After that, I got my head down and made sure I concentrated solely on looking ahead, and when I did eventually glance behind, I saw I had pulled out quite a gap over the others. Then I just tried to keep everything as consistent as I could and hit every apex perfectly, and when the chequered flag came out, it was such a good feeling. It was definitely my best race in Mini Max so far.”
A magnificent achievement as he effortlessly blitzed every single one of his rivals, the pre-final triumph also delivered the 14-year-old Northgate High School pupil a sizeable confidence boost and left him feeling ‘really excited’ ahead of the grand final later in the day. Unfortunately, matters would rapidly go awry.
“It began to rain before the start, so I was a little bit nervous,” he recalled. “I tried to get my foot down at the right time when the lights went out but the engine didn’t seem to want to pull away initially and I was swamped – drivers flew past me on both sides! That left me all the way down in ninth, after which it was another massive scrap at the front. Towards the end it was drying up again and I was getting quicker and quicker, but by then, it was too late…”
Winding up a disconsolate seventh, despite his understandable disappointment, Zelos maturely vowed to take the lessons from the weekend and come back stronger and more formidable still when he returns to PF for the penultimate Super 1 outing there next month.
“I was really upset, because I had been convinced we could win – so to not even leave with a grand final trophy was really gutting,” he mused. “We have to focus on the positives, though, and our pace and performance in the dry were extremely encouraging. We just need a bit more practice in the wet…”
And practice, as they say, does ultimately make perfect.