Michael Epps narrowly missed out on ending his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season on the podium after race three troubles deprived him of a third Jack Sears Trophy victory of the campaign at Brands Hatch.
At the same venue as his BTCC debut six months ago, Epps’ couldn’t have been closer to adding more points to his final tally for the season with a pair of sixteenth place finishes in Kent, those results ensuring he finished the season as the runner-up overall in the Jack Sears Trophy.
Epps had showcased his continued progression in the championship in changeable weather conditions on Saturday, finishing both free practice sessions within the top ten in his Team HARD Toyota Avensis, before producing his best qualifying performance of the season.
In a tricky session which saw a rain shower at the beginning mean it all came down to a climatic final five minutes when the track had dried enough for slick tyres, Epps posted a best effort of 1m 33.095s to finish fourteenth fastest overall.
There was no such changes in the weather come raceday, with the sun shining as the 31 car BTCC grid tackled three races around the world-famous Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, with Epps finding himself in the thick of the action throughout.
The opening race started in positive fashion as Epps picked his way through to a high of eleventh in his TAG Industries, RCIB Insurance, AutoAid Breakdown Cover and Anytime Fitness-backed Avensis, but some typically robust racing from rivals and a little bad luck would prove to be his downfall once again.
Suffering with an engine overheat causing a loss of power after being forced onto the grass, Epps fell back to nineteenth at one stage, but the Hemel Hempstead-based racer showed his fighting spirit to battle back to sixteenth at the finish, with just seven hundredths of a second denying him a points result in a photo finish with his team-mate Jake Hill.
Epps would go on to repeat that finish in the second encounter after battling with the soft compound Dunlop rubber throughout, before some early struggles with grip in race three would see him knocked back to eighteenth.
It would go from bad to worse for the 24 year old however with his bonnet dramatically flipping up at 135mph! With his windscreen fortunately surviving the contact, Epps was able to battle through to the finish, albeit a lap down from the field after pitting to tape down his errant bonnet.
The weekend’s results mean Epps has climbed into the top ten of the Independents Trophy to end the campaign, alongside finishing up joint 23rd in the overall Drivers Championship and second in the Jack Sears Trophy for rookie drivers.
Michael Epps: “I think the day kind of echoed my season in a small way; potential is there but results still to come. If we could’ve held ourselves up toward the top ten in Race One, Race Two may have been easier and then maybe we would’ve had a shot at the reverse grid for the final race. The weekend could’ve gone very differently if you look at it that way! Sadly what appeared to be a bonnet catch failure in the last one kind of blunted our challenge for any points today, but I think we’ve made a point of being competitive in a car that is a bit out of date. It’s been the best year of racing in my life, perhaps the most stressful and emotional too. I’ve left some circuits feeling bitter and others feeling over the moon, but if there is one thing for sure it’s that I’m hungry as hell for more in 2017. As much of a roller coaster it is, the racing, fans and people involved are just fantastic!
I have to express a massive thank you to all of Team HARD. Racing for an amazing year, my family and our sponsors RCIB Insurance, TAG Industries, AutoAid Breakdown Cover, Anytime Fitness, Simply Race and Solar Advanced Industries. Also, a huge thank you to the fans and everyone else in this crazy circus of a paddock that makes a year of racing so incredibly special. I’m already working hard on making 2017 happen, infact it’s going to be hard to sleep if I don’t.”