Mike Epps saw top six pace go unrewarded at Donington Park after contact from rivals derailed his challenge in all three races across the second meeting of the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season over Easter weekend (15/16 April).
Confidence was at an all-time high for Epps heading into the meeting following his best ever BTCC weekend during the season opener at Brands Hatch earlier this month, and his efforts to build on that success got off to a positive start during free practice in Leicestershire.
On a circuit that suits his Auto Aid/RCIB Insurance Racing Volkswagen CC, Epps was able to post the sixth fastest time in both of the forty minute sessions on Saturday, finishing both encounters within four tenths of a second of the leading time.
Some tweaks to the car for qualifying would find the 25 year old some more time, but the best possible lap time wouldn’t quite come together as he finished the session ninth fastest overall, with his best sector times combined having been good enough for the top five.
Ninth would already mark his best ever qualifying performance in the BTCC, but two post-session exclusions meant he would line up seventh on the grid for Sunday's opening race, which he began well as he briefly held the fastest lap of the race and battled in the top ten.
The Hemel Hempstead racer’s challenge would come to an abrupt, early conclusion however, with heavy contact from Andrew Jordan on the rear corner of his CC heading through the final chicane sending him spinning into the barriers and out of the race.
That result would put Epps on the back foot for the remainder of the day, though he started race two in positive fashion by climbing nine positions in the opening five laps to get himself in the fight for the points paying positions in sixteenth position.
More contact from rivals would prove to be his downfall once again though, with the Anytime Fitness, Simply Race and iPro Sport backed racer shoved back to 23rd position at the finish, and it would unfortunately prove to be more of the same in race three.
Fighting up to sixteenth, the point’s positions were in his sights once again, however huge contact to the rear of his car from Rob Austin would cause extensive damage, meaning Epps was forced to nurse the car home in 21st at the finish.
The extent of the chassis damage to Epps’ Team HARD machine means he is now ruled out of the official TOCA test at Thruxton on Thursday (20 April), hampering his preparations ahead of the next rounds at the same circuit next month (06/07 May).
Despite his troubles, Epps would enjoy prominent coverage on ITV4 across the Donington weekend, with on-board cameras in his CC during qualifying, a live link to the commentary box in the opening race, and multiple live interviews during the race day coverage.
Mike Epps: “We were a little weaker pace wise on race day which is something we’re looking into, but ultimately the truly unnecessary contact in race one would completely ruin our day, and he hasn’t been reprimanded for it either which is frustrating.
“I feel like I was really hard done by with that, and it was the catalyst for more contact in the second and third races. The driving standards of others has ruined my weekend, and also put us right on the back foot now heading to Thruxton as we have to miss the test.
“The team have done a fantastic job all weekend though to get the car fixed and back on track each time, and it’s frustrating I couldn’t reward them with some points. We’re focused on coming back at Thruxton and showing what we can really do.”
The attached imagery is from BTCC Media/Jakob Ebrey Photography. Please credit where used.