Zelos arrived at Rockingham in the midst of a rich vein of form in the high-profile British Touring Car Championship feeder series – one that has helped to nurture the careers of no fewer than 12 of the current BTCC stars – off the back of four consecutive top five performances for WDE Motorsport.
The talented young Norfolk ace maintained that encouraging form in the first free practice session around the unique Northants circuit – the only anti-clockwise track on the UK Clio Cup calendar and one that features a walled, banked US oval-style Turn One.
Sixth-quickest behind the wheel of his distinctive, Evergreen Tyres-sponsored Clio, his ideal lap – adding together his three fastest sectors – would have put him third amongst the 21 high-calibre contenders in what is arguably the most fiercely-disputed single-model saloon car championship in Europe.
The heavens opened ahead of FP2 later that day, and Zelos elected to save the sole set of wet tyres at his disposal in view of Sunday’s inclement weather forecast. Despite his relative lack of running, the highly-rated Dereham-based hotshot continued to close the gap to the top of the timesheets in qualifying, but due to the ultra-competitive nature of the field, that equated to an uncharacteristically lowly ninth on the starting grid.
Undeterred, he produced a superb opening lap in Saturday’s contest to vault up into fourth position, and he was pushing for a place on the podium when he found himself sideswiped by championship leader Max Coates, removing the No.45 car immediately from contention.
Race two was a rather wetter affair, with a greasy track surface putting the emphasis firmly on car control – one of Zelos’ strongest suits. In front of a huge trackside crowd, the 20-year-old duly scythed past his adversaries to his fifth top five finish of the 2018 campaign, passing the likes of title protagonist James Dorlin and race one winner Daniel Rowbottom along the way.
Lapping amongst the quickest drivers on the circuit throughout, he matched three-time champion Paul Rivett for pace in the closing stages and ultimately took the chequered flag barely a second adrift of his title-chasing WDE team-mate, thereby completing an excellent recovery from his Saturday disappointment and consolidating his top ten standing in the overall points table.
“You could certainly describe Rockingham as a weekend of two halves!” reflected the Norwich University of Arts Graphic Design undergraduate and former Dereham Sixth Form College student. “We had a few issues in free practice, and the rain in FP2 meant we didn’t get chance to run on new rubber before qualifying, so we weren’t overly sure how the car would perform. We didn’t quite nail the set-up either, and in such a closely-fought session, that left us down the grid a little and on the back foot.
“In Saturday’s race, I got away well from the line and heading towards Deene Hairpin for the first time, I went up high on the banking and left my braking as late as I dared. I was able to sweep around the outside and by the end of lap one I was up into fourth place, which was a mega start.
“After that, I was challenging for third when Coates just turned across the front of me going into the chicane on lap two. It was a big hit that caused significant front-right suspension damage, which put me out on the spot. That was hugely frustrating, because we definitely had the pace to fight for a podium position, and while Max received a verbal warning for the incident, that didn’t change the end result.
“Sunday’s race was wet to begin with, but the track was consistently drying, which made for very tricky conditions. Rockingham is always tough on the tyres, and when it rains, the grip level is reduced to almost zero. It was a real step into the unknown, but my car felt great – which is testament to the awesome job done, as ever, by all the WDE boys – and the key was to drive patiently and stick to the wet line without overstepping the limit.
“I received a few knocks early on, which restricted my progress initially but once things calmed down, I could focus on battling my way through. I made it up to fifth, but then Paul and I were so similar in terms of speed and his car was kicking up so much spray that there was no opportunity to attack.
“Still, it was a real positive for me to be running at the same pace as him given all his experience and success in the series, and if we had qualified further up the grid, I have no doubt at all that we would have been pushing for a top three finish again. We clearly have the potential to do that on a regular basis now – it’s just about putting all the pieces of the puzzle in the right places.”