Mike Epps saw potential for points scoring finishes go unfulfilled after contact from rivals derailed his challenge in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship during his first ever visit to Knockhill this past weekend (13/14 August).
With confidence high after making his first visit to the BTCC podium last time out at Snetterton with a maiden Jack Sears Trophy win, Epps headed into the weekend hoping to add to his six points finishes so far this campaign.
It proved to be a difficult Saturday for the Team HARD racer though as he acclimatised to the unique, undulating Knockhill circuit, with both team and driver working hard across the two free practice sessions towards a stronger qualifying.
Epps gave it everything he had in qualifying and posted a best effort of 52.269s in his Toyota Avensis. That lap time was over a second and a half faster than his best in FP1 and placed him twentieth on the grid. The difference from pole down to Epps’ twentieth was just seven tenths of a second, with only three tenths to find for a top 10 time, putting him in buoyant mood for the opening race
The first few laps of that encounter would set the tone for the three races however, with Epps suffering contact in some robust battles to be knocked back to P23 at one stage, before he fought back well to take nineteenth at the finish.
With the soft compound Dunlop rubber on his Avensis for race two, Epps lit up the timesheets early on as he briefly held the fastest lap of the race, before going on to make steady progress through the field and put himself in contention for the points positions.
Climbing to a high of fifteenth position with three laps to go, Epps unfortunately saw his charge come to a premature end as he was unceremoniously speared into the tyre barriers at Clark’s – an incident that the perpetrator was reprimanded for post-race.
That marked only Epps’ third retirement of the season so far and put him back in 26th on the grid for the final race of the weekend, with his efforts to climb up the field once again met with contact on the opening lap which led to a damaged front right wheel.
Fortunately the tyre held up on his RCIB Insurance Racing Avensis and Epps was able to pick his way through to twentieth at the finish, though it was another difficult encounter as he battled with a lack of straight line speed compared those around him.
Despite his troubles over the weekend, Epps leaves Scotland having closed the gap at the top of the Jack Sears Trophy standings to 24 points heading into the next rounds of the championship at Rockingham at the end of the month (27/28 August). With the recent passing of Jack Sears, an emotional tribute was held last weekend on the grid, making the 2016 Jack Sears Trophy something of a more prestigious and special award.
Mike Epps: “It was another weekend of what could have been really. We found it difficult with set-up in free practice, but we made some progress in qualifying despite our lack of straight-line speed. I was confident we could race as usual, and we did, but people this weekend were just not respecting eachother once again and things became too tangled.:
“Unfortunately contact throughout the three races from the usual cars has done quite a bit of damage, it’s incredibly frustrating. I try my hardest to avoid contact and to race properly, only for drivers usually with bigger budgets and bigger teams to just barge and smash you off repeatedly. It’s past the point of “rubbing is racing”. Swerving across the track unexpectedly, turning in as if you aren’t there, spearing you off under braking; it looks somewhat amateur and is just not acceptable when it’s happening every lap. I think we actually had good race pace, but never got the chance to show what we could really do.”
“It’s been a bit of a weekend to forget to be honest. We have Rockingham in two weeks though, I feel we may be a little strong there and I’ll certainly not be giving an inch this time.”
For more updates, like Mike's Facebook Page or Follow his Twitter. Catch the last rounds of the MSA Dunlop British Touring Car Championship on ITV Player or watch the next rounds live on 28 August (ITV4). Images credit: Phil Laughton Photography