Michael Epps showed his speed and potential for 2014 recently at the annual Chris Griffis Road To Indy test at Barber Motorsports Park, Alabama. Recently signed to Belardi Auto Racing and testing his #44 USF2000 car, he placed second and fourth in the timesheets during both afternoon sessions on Monday and Tuesday, proving himself as a potential favourite for next years Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda. He was also given the opportunity to test Belardi’s Indy Lights car for the final session, in which he was only a second away from competitive pace and still finding time with every lap.
Familiar to the cold and wintery conditions caused by a cold front across the middle of the country, Epps was confident and comfortable during the whole test. Starting on a wet track for both days, he placed sixth and seventh fastest. “We didn’t do a huge amount for the wet weather as we were expecting it to dry a little quicker than it did, but there we go. We had a sort of half-way setup on and was still competitive so I was pleased. I’m never too worried about wet conditions as during a wet race I feel it’s more about where you put your car to get around the others than it is about sheer pace. We got some good information about Barber in the wet anyhow.”
Things really came down to the wire during both afternoon sessions. As the track got just a little bit faster each lap, the laptimes were constantly tumbling and even with a few other issues Epps was able to post the fourth fastest time in the final session, just half a tenth away from being third. “It was like testing back in the UK”, said the 21-year old, who finished 12th in last years USF2000 Championship. “Due to the huge amounts of rain over-night and steep gradient on some parts of the track, there was water coming out of the seams in the tarmac which made it somewhat interesting to drive when things dried out! There were a lot of red flags and we had to refuel near the end of the last session, which kind of halted our progress, but on the last lap I got down to a good enough time. I could’ve gone faster but we ran out of time.” Rather than packing up and heading off after his final session, Epps was getting seated for his first try out in an Indy Lights car. With a 3.5L V8 producing 420bhp and a weight of 1500lbs (680kg) it was a considerably different beast to what he was used to, but he didn’t waste much time getting up to speed and eventually posted a competitive time for old tyres. Belardi’s Alex Baron was driving the other Indy Lights car for the whole two-day test and setting an great example for Epps to follow. “I was using Alex’s leftover tyres for the session so I wasn’t expecting to set the world alight at all. He had just come in having done a 1:17 lap time before going to new tyres and handing his old ones to my car. I was getting up to speed by this point and went out to do a time just a few tenths off his on the same set so I was pretty happy with how close I got. If I’m honest my neck was pretty tired by the end. That said, I felt really comfortable pushing that car to the edge and I feel very confident about jumping into a car like that in the future now and going that little bit further. I loved having more downforce and power to control the cars balance with.” “You always wonder as a driver if you’ll reach a point (or class) where you can’t go any further, no-one can deny that in my opinion, and I was pleased to know that I can handle a car as big and fast as that. I’m really looking forward to my future over here in the Mazda Road To Indy now.” Epps will now return home to enjoy the Christmas festivities and continue with his 2014 USF2000 program with Belardi Auto Racing in the New Year.