Dan Zelos feels stepping up to the Renault UK Clio Cup with Ciceley Motorsport was the right move for him at this stage of his career and says he’s starting to feel right at home with the team after their first test days together last week.
Zelos joins the tin-top championship after two seasons in the Ginetta Junior Championship with JHR Developments, a spell which produced two races wins, sixteen podium finishes and a pair of top four points finishes.
The 17 year old was assessing a number of options for the new season, including sticking with JHR in MSA Formula or leaving the TOCA package for the MINI Challenge, but told The Checkered Flag that once discussions started with Ciceley, it proved to be a perfect fit for all parties.
“It was quite an uncertain winter to be honest, but once we’d spoken to my sponsor Evergreen about the opportunity with Ciceley and the Clio Cup, they were really keen to sort a deal out and it’s a good move for us all, a real step forward,” said Zelos.
“We had a great two years with JHR, I can’t fault the work they did and it would have been good to go down the single-seater route with them. I want to follow the BTCC path though and with everything they have to offer and their BTCC experience, it made sense to go with Ciceley.
“They are a great bunch of guys. They’re not here to come top five or top three, they are here to win, which is a mentality I like. This is our first proper test and I’ve really enjoyed it working with them.”
Zelos and the team got their pre-season testing programme underway on Thursday (18th February) with the trip south to Thruxton, a circuit Zelos knows well having taken his first ever car-racing victory there back in 2014.
With just a handful of laps behind the wheel at Donington Park in December being his only previous experience of the Ciceley Clio, the Thruxton outing was crucial as he got acquainted with his new car and new team.
“It’s a front wheel drive car, so going around Church flat out is a totally different experience to what it was in a Junior!” he enthused.
“After a session or two out in the car, I really started to feel quite homely with it and the pace kept coming and coming. Even when the tyres were going off towards the end of the session, I was still finding time which is good.
“I now need to work on getting that pace straight out the box and working on qualifying runs. Mainly though it’s about getting used to the car enough that I can start going back to the team with ideas on set-up and fine-tuning the car to me. It’s been a really productive day though.”
The test, which they followed up with a day’s running at Silverstone on Friday (19th February), also gave Zelos his first chance to work alongside his new team-mate Ollie Pidgley, who joins the series with experience in MSA Formula and the Michelin Clio Cup Series.
“Me and Ollie are both entering the championship at the same sort of level, so that will certainly help,” Zelos reflected.
“We’re certainly going to be pushing each other forwards, if he’s a bit quicker one session I’m going to want to beat him, and vice versa. I think we’re going to make a good partnership and bring the team on together.”
Like many drivers who enter the Clio Cup, Zelos has at least a two year plan for the championship, meaning he says his focus is solely on learning and progression this year – but he admits he’s keen to battle at the head of the rookie pack, which includes his former Ginetta team-mate Senna Proctor.
“It’s going to be a really competitive season. Ciceley keep telling me I’ve got not pressure for this year which is good to hear, but I’m always going to give myself a bit of pressure as I’m going to want to beat my team-mate and the other guys at a similar level to me,” he concluded.
“It’s going to be good racing against Senna again, as we were fairly well matched in Juniors. He’s been out in the Clio a lot more than me so far, so it will be a good benchmark for me to begin with, to try and match his pace.
“Ultimately though, I’m not going to know until the opening rounds who’s going to be my opposition. We’ll keep doing our thing in pre-season and try to improve our pace, then see what happens when the season starts.”