Michael Epps is confident of pushing for points finishes in a fortnight’s time at Donington Park after showing huge improvements over the course of his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship debut at Brands Hatch this weekend (02/03 April).
With no running in the car prior the race weekend, Epps headed into the meeting knowing it would be a baptism of fire – and that feeling was intensified after a power steering problem left him unable to take to the track during the opening free practice session on Saturday morning.
More hard work from the Team HARD mechanics though, who had worked flat out to get the car built from scratch in less than three weeks ahead of the meeting, saw Epps make his BTCC on-track bow during free practice two.
The Hemel Hempstead racer got some crucial track time under his belt during the session, completing 24 laps of the Indy circuit. Despite focusing on shaking down the car and bedding in key parts ahead of qualifying, Epps was able to post a best lap of 49.635s to slot into 25th position.
With that pace under his belt Epps was looking to move up the order in qualifying, but a combination of further natural teething problems in his RCIB Insurance Racing Avensis and some light rainfall halfway through the session left him only 26th on the grid, having posted an improved best effort of 49.242s.
While not the result he ultimately wanted, there was cause for optimism for the 24 year old heading into Sunday’s trio of races, with progress through the field the aim as he took to the capacity 32 car grid in front of a huge trackside crowd in Kent and the live ITV4 cameras.
After getting caught up in an early incident at Graham Hill Bend in the opening race, Epps was able to showcase his potential in the car as he fought back from 25th position – producing a slick overtake on former double champion Jason Plato on his way to 20th place at the finish.
Epps’ best result of the weekend would come in the second encounter. After settling in 21st after a busy few opening laps, he lapped at the same pace as those in the points scoring positions as he rose up the order to 17th place, just two positions shy of his maiden BTCC points finish.
While the weekend didn’t finish as hoped with a frustrating run to 21st place in the third race, Epps ended his debut meeting third in the standings for Jack Sears Trophy and with plenty of crucial experience under his belt ahead of the trip to Donington on April 16/17.
Michael Epps: "I'm a real mixture of feelings after this weekend, mainly relieved and somewhat chilled out. I had so many anticipations of what it would be like in BTCC, I didn't know if I would feel comfortable at all but in that first session I really felt like I could get stuck in. By Race 1, my third ever BTCC session on track, I was putting aggressive passes on previous championships like Turkington and Plato!"
"It's very interesting to see how the field has been shaken up a bit this year, with new cars, parts, etc. It's made it a little bit more of a lottery. I have to take my hat off to the Team Hard guys at RCIB Insurance Racing, essentially still building the car on the night and morning before Qualifying, yet all of our cars remained strong and didn't break apart from a fuel pressure regulator on Jake Hill's car, which is out of our control anyway! So, given that, I'm more than happy with a 17th place finish and looking forward to pushing towards that top 10 area."
"I have to give a massive thank you to RCIB Insurance Racing for providing a backbone in my BTCC debut, and the rest of my partners too! These are the biggest moments of my career and I can't wait to rock up at Donington in two weeks for even more!"
Words by Simon Paice Media.
Images from Jakob Ebrey / CarryFiasco Photography