Michael Epps endured a challenging weekend at Rockingham as the Northamptonshire circuit hosted rounds four and five of the Protyre Formula Renault BARC championship.
The 20 year old from Hemel Hempstead had never raced on the 1.9 mile circuit and was desperate during qualifying to add to the small amount of testing mileage he had experienced around the circuit in order to find the optimum racing lines. However, both sessions were blighted by a spate of red flags as the wet conditions caught out a number of drivers. This restricted Epps to just three laps in each session and left him 18th and 15th on the two grids. To add to his frustrations Epps had gone tenth fastest in the second session just as the red flag was waved which meant his time was discounted which denied him a more promising grid slot but did show that he was capable of setting times good enough to be further towards the front of the field.
“It was fairly treacherous conditions to be honest; there was just the right amount of stnading water on track to make the cars float around a little but at the same time it was greasy around certain sections,” he said of the first session. “I got a lot more out of the car in the second session,” added the Anytime Fitness backed driver.
In the first race which was run in dry conditions, Epps worked his way up from eighteenth on the grid to an eventual fifteenth place finish after a mighty scrap in the midfield. With positions swapping almost every lap Epps gave a good demonstration of his race craft by pulling off some of the best overtakes of the day with his favourite spot being Tarzan hairpin. However such is the competitiveness of this championship that for every place Michael gained there was someone wanting to take it away from him and this meant he had to be defensive at times in the race. This prevented him from being able to concentrate on making a few more places. After the race he was nevertheless pleased with what had been a solid progression up the order.
He said: “I got a good start and had a fair run into the first corner and was doing alright, and then a car came out of nowhere mid-corner and forced me a bit wide. It was a bit of a dogfight for the first couple of laps and then I started to come back through so I’d actually lost places and then gained them back on the first lap so I was in the place I’d started at the end of the first lap. I got through a couple of them lap by lap but we were all quite similarly paced and I was also being taken back a couple of times as well. My pace wasn’t quite there to charge through, if I’d started higher up it would have been an much better race.
“Looking at the actual experiences during the race I’d say the result is okay and that I drove pretty much the best I could have done.”
Michael went into the second race with high hopes after his good performance from the lowly grid slot in the first race. Knowing that he would start fifteenth for the second race he hoped to challenge for his first top ten finish of the season. However, after a good getaway it all went wrong at the first corner, Deane where Epps was hit hard from behind which dropped him to the very back of the field. He feared initially that there was damage to his Jwa-Avilla prepared machine but after the first couple of laps he could run at a similar pace to the first race and set about catching the pack. This was a difficult task because of how much time had been lost on the opening lap but Epps showed great determination to reel in the tail of the pack and then again impressed with a couple of clean overtakes to move up the order. He also took advantage of retirements ahead to work his way up from 28th to 21st by the chequered flag, narrowly missing out on a top twenty finish which would have yielded him some points.
An understandably disappointed Epps said of the incident that ruined his race, “Coming out of the hairpin all the cars scattered on the exit and I got tagged at the rear by one of them.”
Thruxton in Hampshire is the scene of the next two rounds of the championship and Epps aims to bounce back from this weekend when the series visits the circuit next month.
He said: “I should be more comfortable there. The aim is to improve on the pace we’ve had here and push further towards the front.”
Photograph by Darren Hurrel