ZELOS ENJOYS EXPERIENCE WITH EXCELR8 AT GOODYEAR TYRE TEST
Reigning MINI CHALLENGE Champion Dan Zelos was given the opportunity to showcase his skills behind the wheel of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship-leading Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 TradePriceCars.com Hyundai i30N just last week (12/13 July) during the series’ annual Goodyear tyre test – and he grabbed it with both hands.
Zelos was promoted from the role of Development Driver to the team’s official BTCC Reserve Driver this year, strengthening his ties with the Suffolk-based squad. The Norfolk ace was duly invited to sample the hybrid Hyundai at his home track of Snetterton on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, alongside regular drivers Tom Ingram, Tom Chilton and Daniel Lloyd.
Notwithstanding a couple of previous toe-in-the-water trials – one at the tail end of 2016, the second late last year – last week’s group test marked Zelos’ first extended run in BTCC machinery.
In sweltering conditions, the 24-year-old completed more than 100 laps of the 2.97-mile circuit – the longest on the championship calendar – settling steadily into his new surroundings before increasingly building up the confidence to push.
By listening and learning from the advice proffered by Ingram, Chilton and Lloyd – who between them count no fewer than 39 BTCC race wins and three Independent Drivers’ crowns, with the former currently leading this season’s title chase outright – Zelos took a measurable step forward on day two. In what is widely regarded as one of the toughest touring car fields in the world, he even featured inside the top ten for a while out of the 19 drivers that had posted a representative lap at that stage.
Impressively, the Dereham-born hotshot concluded proceedings just a single tenth-of-a-second adrift of Chilton and less than half-a-second shy of four-time champion Colin Turkington.
“For my first proper taste of what life would be like as a touring car driver, it was a fantastic experience and one that has definitely whetted my appetite for more,” said Zelos. “I was extremely excited to climb behind the wheel of the Hyundai at last – it was a huge privilege to drive the championship-leading car, and I loved every minute.
“The i30N felt completely different to my MINI and a big step-up; there was a lot to get my head around in a relatively short space of time and it was almost like starting over from zero in some respects. They were two pretty full-on days – especially in that heat – and I just tried to soak up as much information as I could, and then process and digest it all.
“I got to know the BTCC side of EXCELR8 Motorsport a little bit better – everybody was really welcoming, and it was amazing to be given such an exclusive insight into how a top-level touring car team operates. EXCELR8 has taken giant strides during its short time in the BTCC so far, and I learned so much from working so closely with the engineers, mechanics and other drivers and received plenty of positive feedback, which was very encouraging.
“Despite having only really scratched the surface of what is possible, I honestly now believe I could turn up for a race weekend and be somewhere in the mix – I feel ready and prepared should an opportunity present itself. Big thanks to EXCELR8 for putting their trust in me and giving me this chance to show what I can do. I’m very sure it won’t be the last time I sit in a touring car – one way or another, I’m going to make this happen.”
“It isn’t easy to jump into an official test like that having never driven the car before and with nearly everybody else having at least half a season under their belt,” added Tom Ingram. “Dan was unquestionably thrown in at the deep end in that respect, but I thought he acquitted himself extremely well. He’s clearly very fast in the MINI, and while we’ve seen in the past that being quick in one car doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be quick in another, he looked very competitive in what is a really high-calibre field this year in the BTCC.
“A lot of people underestimate just how difficult and physical these cars are to drive, but Dan made no significant errors, knuckled down and worked very hard – and he came out of the box on Wednesday morning immediately looking much stronger than he had done the previous day, which is testament to his preparation and dedication. If and when he gets the opportunity to join the BTCC grid, he now knows what to expect and certainly wouldn’t be out of his depth.”