Michael Epps has had a dreamy beginning to his 2014 racing season, taking his first podium at NOLA, first wins back-to-back at Barber Motorsports Park and second overall in the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship. Combined with his team-mates strong performances, Belardi Auto Racing also won the team championship.
A Winter of tough work by Epps and the Indiana based USF2000 team eventually paid off, but it wasn’t a simple task. At the beginning of the Winterfest week, he and the team struggled in qualifying at NOLA, only able to post a time for mid-grid starting positions in the first two races. Decisively picking his way through to 7th position from 11th in round one, things were improving for the Brit, but contact causing him to lose his front wing in race two halted his points progress. That said, with a new wing attached in pitlane he went out to set the fourth fastest time earning him that place on the grid for round three the next day. Starting well, he had a long race for 2nd place with Jake Eidson but eventually crossed the line a close 3rd, his first podium of the season and first ever in the USA. “It was a real team tester for us I think. We turned up and found we had a few things to sort out. We worked hard at it, didn’t make any rushed decisions and by the end we were close enough. It’s very hard to recover from a bad qualifying session and the fact that we managed to push that far up in so little time is promising for any tough times we could experience during the season.”
Taking thoughts and notes from the racing at NOLA, Epps and Belardi Auto Racing were able to take another step in the right direction at Barber. Posting the third quickest time in practice just two tenths shy of the quickest, things were certainly shaping up well for more podium challenges. Epps didn’t just improve though; he completely dominated the qualifying session, taking his first poles for both races by three tenths of a second.
The weather took a sudden turn for round four, with all driver having to change to wet tyres on the grid. Being fairly experienced in the rain, Epps was still confident, but when the green flag was raised earlier than he expected he was left behind at the start and dropped to third position. Not far in, a full course caution was called after an incident. Epps took full advantage of the restart to take second place back from Brazilian driver Victor Franzoni and chased down team-mate Florian Latorre to take the lead with a few laps to go. Driving away steadily, he took his first win crossing the line 2 seconds ahead of Latorre.
The track dried for round five late in the afternoon. This time Epps nailed the start to lead from green flag to finish, crossed the line 2 seconds ahead of championship leader RC Enerson earning two wins back-to-back on the same day.
The grid for round six was decided by lap times from the previous race. Enerson’s fastest lap was just half a tenth faster than Epps’, giving him pole for round six and Epps P2. The championship points were now also very close, with Enerson leading just seven points ahead of him.
Slotting into second at the start, Epps tried his best to catch leader Enerson, but after losing time on the first lap he didn’t quite have the pace to catch up. He crossed the line in second place, his fastest lap just three thousandths slower than the winner.
Regardless of just missing out on the Winterfest Championship, Epps was delighted with his overall result. “Considering where we started from at NOLA just five days ago, I think we’ve done a stellar job! Maybe with a slightly different tactic this weekend and without the incident at NOLA we could’ve won the whole thing, but that’s just good news for me heading into the main championship. We’ve got some of the bad things out of the way early, and so now we can really make a true challenge for the 2014 USF2000 honours.” “I’d like to thank Belardi Auto Racing for providing a great team and car here and congratulate them on winning the Winterfest Team Championship. I’d also like to thank all my sponsors, partners, friends and family for their amazing continued support.”