Just one week before the third weekend of the Millers Oils Ginetta GT4 Supercup was due to take place at Croft circuit in North Yorkshire, it was questionable whether championship front-runner Mike Epps would make it out on track due to a faltering season budget with the loss of a sponsor. Fortunately, he was able to finalise things last minute and in a mixture of torrential and sunny conditions he came out with two more podiums and a bunch of points to add to his championship assault.
On Friday, Epps topped the timesheets in the first free practice session of the weekend by a considerable margin in wet conditions on the circuit’s recently re-surfaced layout. The weekend was set to be unpredictable as always, with weather forecasts changes every hour.
The 20-minute Qualifying session took place on Saturday morning in dry conditions, but with Croft circuit having recently replaced the grass on most corner exits with soft turf combined with a huge amount of rain in the week building up to the event, came a new problem. Beyond the exit kerbs were deep drops into what had now become thick mud, which meant as soon as one car overstepped the mark, half the circuit exit would be coated with mud and often that car getting stuck.
The red flags came out exactly half way through Epps’ second qualifying lap, set to be a flyer, for one of these incidents and a 15-minute delay ensued to clean up the track and retrieve the car. The return back to circuit left just 10-minutes on the clock for everyone to set their laps and Epps had already taken the best out of his tyres in his first run. He managed to qualify third by the end of the session, with championship rivals Tom Hibbert and Harry King ahead.
“I wanted to get a lap in as soon as possible as yesterday by the end of the session there was so much mud on the circuit we were actually going slower, but that tactic today worked against us today with the red flag!”
Race 1 was held late on Saturday in extremely wet conditions, so much so that the question was raised whether it was safe enough to race. Unfortunately, it was the very first lap where Epps was caught out by unsighted standing water, aquaplaning off the circuit. The race was stopped with another car having a huge crash, aquaplaning off in the same spot a lap later, and he was able get back to pit lane for his team to repair the car for a restart. With the race length dropped to just five laps and Epps starting from pit lane, the mission was on to get back up the order, in which he pushed hard to get back through to 9th overall and 6th in the “Pro” category.
The weather dried for Sunday’s televised races and sunshine beamed down for the first time all weekend. Starting P6 for Race 2, Epps picked off cars ahead one by one to move up to third by the flag, matching the pace of cars ahead. The reverse grid drew number 6 from the hat, swapping the top six cars, relegating him to P4 for Race 3.
With rain failing just an hour before the final race of the weekend, the circuit was damp, but drying as the cars headed out to the grid on slick tyres. In what he described as a “sketchy” couple of opening laps, he made the move for third. Hunting down second place he began to struggle with a clutch issue, affecting his drive off slower corners. He was still able to pass for second place, but the leader Harry King had drawn out a lead of several seconds and it was a case of survival for the Hemel Hempstead racer. He crossed the line second, taking his fifth podium of the year.
“I’ll take that for a weekend after the drama of race one”, Epps commented after the weekend. “We had more pace than our results let on I think, yesterday was a bit of a hash with the conditions and that had an effect on my grid position for the following races. Then with issue in the last race it made it so hard to get close enough to overtake.”
“We took more points away with us than last weekend though, so we are infact looking stronger now than before when things go as they should. I have a feeling we could be even stronger at Oulton Park in two weeks if we can get the budget together for those rounds, so that’s now the next challenge.”
“Again a huge thanks to Tony Gilham at Team Hard Racing for making this year viable for me, my sponsors Simply Race and my family for the work we’ve put in together to make it this far. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue the fight.”
Just over a third of the way through the Championship, Epps sits fourth in the points in what is turning out to be a tight five-horse race for the 2019 Millers Oils Ginetta GT4 Supercup title. The next rounds take place at Oulton Park, Cheshire on June 29-30.