Mike Epps faced a tough set of challenges during a rollercoaster of a weekend in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham, but left with positivity running into the final two weekends of the UK’s premier touring car series.
Fuel surge problems in the opening free practice session would unfortunately set the tone for a disastrous Saturday in Corby, with a recurrence of the problems in FP2 due to a design issue with his fuel cell for anti-clockwise circuits. An engine misfire then occured, leading to a tough decision being made to change engines before qualifying.
A fantastic effort from the Team HARD squad saw the power unit replaced and ready to go in just over two hours, however as the session began a problem was found with the fuel pump and with no replacement part available from the supplier, he would not make it onto the circuit at all for the soaking 30-minute session.
With the problems resolved overnight Epps was ready to fight through the field in the opening race of the weekend and the 24-year old did just that in his RCIB Insurance Racing Toyota Avensis, showcasing his overtaking prowess as he expertly scythed his way through the order despite having to run an extra 35kg of fuel to cure his surging issue from Saturday.
Climbing up six positions on the opening lap alone, Epps would continue his forward momentum following a short safety car period. By lap eleven he was into the top 20. Moving quickly to eighteenth, Epps then received contact from Warren Scott, knocking him back a place going into the final lap, but he retaliated quickly to secure a clean eighteenth at the finish.
The second race of the day would prove to be a hugely promising encounter that unfortunately didn’t produce the end result it deserved, with the Hemel Hempstead racer working his way through to twelfth position after the first six laps.
A slow puncture caused by contact would affect his pace in the second half of the race however and on the final lap his rear left tyre came off the rim around Yentwood, forcing him to retire on the spot.
That would mean Epps would start from twenty-first on the grid for the final race of the day and once again he was on the receiving end of contact early in the race, which this time would go on to lead into a massive 135mph slide around the flat-out turn one banking.
Dropping back to P29 having gathered things up, Epps’ chances of climbing back through the field were stalled a number of times by safety car periods during a frenetic race, with the Anytime Fitness-backed racer emerging in 23rd position at the finish.
With two race finishes to his name from the weekend, Epps has maintained his second place in the Jack Sears Trophy and a top ten standing in the Independents Trophy heading into the penultimate weekend of the season next month at Silverstone (17/18 September).
Mike Epps: “It’s really not been a great one, to be honest! There are some positives to take away. We posted the sixth fastest time in race two and were it not for being used as some sort of battering ram mid-race we may have just been able to snatch a top 10, which then could’ve resulted in a pole position from the reverse grid draw, which in this case for Aron Smith resulted in a win!
“I really do feel we had the pace to hold position even right at the front and my team-mate Jake proved that by moving through to 8th in the final race.”
“It just wasn’t my day today. No qualifying running, engine issues and changes, running over-weight by nearly half the maximum championship ballast just to cure our fuel surge. I think despite all these things we have shown some immense promise this weekend.”
“Silverstone should be a stronger circuit for us, the Avensis is proven there to a certain extent. Provided things stay clean enough I think we will finally show what we are worth.”
The next BTCC rounds at Silverstone take place on 18 September, are shown LIVE on ITV4 and online with ITV Player.
Find Mike on Twitter and Facebook at @EppsRacer for more frequent updates.
Images from Phil Laughton Photography, words by Simon Paice Media.