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Dan Zelos has vowed to go into the 2024 Vertu MINI CHALLENGE campaign ‘all guns blazing’ after confirming he will return to the fiercely-disputed British Touring Car Championship support series with EXCELR8 Motorsport in defence of his Drivers’ crown.

Last year, Zelos swept all before him in the top-tier of the single-make series, courtesy of a record-breaking ten victories from 20 starts, six pole positions out of seven and five fastest laps.

Not only that, but his second outright title marked the 25-year-old’s fourth MINI CHALLENGE trophy in five seasons, adding to the Rookie Cup that he lifted in 2019 and the Graduate Cup laurels twelve months later.

Statistically the most successful driver in the championship’s history, Zelos’ 2023 triumph was all-the-more impressive for coming off the back of what he described as the lowest point of his career in 2022, when his first attempted title defence had been dramatically derailed by a number of misfortunes and issues.

Approaching his sixth full campaign in the series with EXCELR8 – and as he bids to become the first driver to secure the spoils on three separate occasions in the headlining JCW category – Zelos can count upon the support of loyal long-term partners Davanti Tyres, CAM Systems, RMT Garage Equipment and Tanvic.

His car will additionally carry the logo of the charity Parkinson’s UK, in an effort to raise awareness of the disease following the recent diagnosis of somebody very close to him.

Moreover, Zelos will dovetail his assault on MINI CHALLENGE glory with his ongoing role as EXCELR8’s BTCC Reserve Driver, with another test promised in the team’s championship-winning Hyundai i30 Fastback N as part of his agreement.

“It’s no secret that we had been targeting a step-up to the BTCC for this season, but due to a variety of factors – from budget and timing to some personal reasons – it didn’t really fall into place,” Zelos said.

“The BTCC is still very much my long-term goal, but it would need to be a proper commitment with the right team and right package, not only for me but also for my sponsors. In the meantime, I want to ensure I’m racing in a competitive championship that gives me the best possible chance of putting myself in the shop window – and there is nowhere better to achieve that than the MINI CHALLENGE.

“The journey we went on in 2022 was a rough ride but I came out of it so much stronger, and that unquestionably contributed to last season’s success. Every year, I’m learning more and more, and every year, I’m becoming an ever-more complete driver on and off-track.

“I got back into the car a couple of weeks ago for the first time since winning the championship at Brands Hatch last October, and I settled into the rhythm very quickly, which was obviously encouraging. Mentally, I feel fully ready now to come back and defend my title, and performance-wise, I feel on top of my game.

“There were a lot of drivers who put up an increasing fight as last season progressed, and they will be trying even harder this year to knock me off the top step, but consistency has always been one of my biggest strengths and so is the continuity of staying with the same team – it’s one less variable to have to worry about. I know everybody very well on both a personal and professional level, and when I pitch up to a race weekend with the EXCELR8 guys and girls, it honestly feels like walking into my own home.

“As the team’s BTCC Reserve Driver, I’m also still very close to EXCELR8’s touring car operation and when I’m not racing, I will hopefully have an even more active role in the BTCC garage this year, which can only be beneficial and you never know what doors that may open moving forward.

“Focussing on the task at hand, though, I’m going into the season with a lot of confidence. I still feel on a high from what we achieved last year, and I want to carry that form with me into Donington Park. Psychologically, and from a points-scoring perspective, it’s always important to get off to a good start so I’ll be going in all guns blazing to show that I mean business again, and aiming to set the bar high right from the outset.”

The 2024 MINI CHALLENGE campaign will get underway at Donington Park on 27/28 April, benefitting from live, free-to-air television coverage season-long on ITV channels as part of the high-profile BTCC package, which attracts some 15 million annual TV viewers and just shy of 400,000 trackside spectators.

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