Zola pounced after Zander Diamond's header came back off the post.
Torquay target man Rene Howe took his tally to five goals this season with an 11th minute opener. Nathan Craig's cross took a slight deflection to spin it on to the far post, where Howe was on hand to side foot home from six yards past Albion keeper Stuart Tomlinson.
However Burton will be wondering how they did not reply sooner, having hit the crossbar in the first half and the post in the second. United keeper Michael Poke came to the home side's rescue, making a brilliant double save to deny Brewers dangerman Zola and then Jack Dyer as he followed up.
Zola's diving header from Damien McCrory's free kick, came back off Poke's knees and then the big United keeper went full stretch to tip Dyer's inswinging free kick on to the the bar and clear.
In the second half Zola again came close to scoring as his 62nd minute strike following a corner smashed off the upright.