Mike Epps made a brilliant return to the top ten in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with a hard-fought best finish of eighth position during the fourth meeting of the season at Oulton Park this weekend (20/21 May). Bouncing back in style following a difficult meeting at Thruxton earlier this month, Epps and the Team HARD squad would see their hard work across the weekend rewarded with a points finish hat-trick as Epps firmly put himself right back in the mix at the front of the field. Following an engineering overhaul of the car ahead of the meeting, the focus in Saturday’s two free practice sessions was on fine-tuning the set-up of the Volkswagen CC ahead of qualifying, though changing weather conditions would limit their opportunity to do so. Epps would still go on to produce a strong performance in qualifying in his Auto Aid/RCIB Insurance Racing machine, however he would end the session rueing what might have been after seeing a lap that was on course to place him in the top six get halted by red flags. Instead, the Hemel Hempstead racer would line up thirteenth on the grid for the first of Sunday’s three races, which would take place in front of a massive trackside crowd in the Cheshire sunshine and the live ITV4 television cameras. After maintaining his thirteenth position for a large portion of the opening race, some late progress including a stunning overtaking move around the outside at Old Hall corner would earn him an eleventh place finish and put the top ten firmly in his sights for race two. The Anytime Fitness, Simply Race and iPro Sport-backed driver would once again hold position during the typically frenetic opening few laps of the race, before moving into tenth place on lap four and slotting in behind his team-mate Jake Hill.
As the race settled down, Epps would impressively keep former double BTCC champion Jason Plato at bay throughout the remaining laps as he took the chequered flag in tenth, before those two would go on to renew rivalries during an action-packed final race of the day. Keeping himself out of trouble while a number of cars around him came to blows, Epps would rise to eighth position before the safety car emerged on lap eight – an interlude that would crucially help him maintain life in his Dunlop option soft tyres. Epps took the restart with the opportunity to fight for a maiden Independents victory with Rob Austin ahead, however a spirited challenge would be rebuffed by some forceful defending and he would go on to take his sixth career BTCC top ten finish in eighth. The weekend’s results mean that Epps has now comfortably eclipsed his final points tally from the 2016 season already, with his Oulton success moving him back into the overall championship top fifteen ahead of the visit to Croft in North Yorkshire next month (10/11 June). Mike Epps: “We have certainly moved back in the right direction this weekend. Every time we’ve gone out on track we’ve improved, we’ve been in the top ten on merit, and that’s a really good sign going forwards this season. “I think Thruxton was a bit of an anomaly for us, the Volkswagen was just not as balanced there due to a lack of testing and hard tyre knowledge, but Oulton Park is a more traditional circuit and we were able to start to show our potential again. “I really enjoyed being back in the mix towards the front, with some good racing across all three races, even if I seemed to spend all day trying to fend off Plato in his rear wheel drive car which was a hassle. Hopefully we can push forwards from here at Croft next time out.”