Rising star Michael Epps has enjoyed a sensational maiden car racing season, the half Brit, half Kiwi racer finishing second overall in the prestigious 750mc Formula Vee championship. The Checkered Flag spoke with Epps to reflect on his superb season and look ahead to next year.
After a few years in Karting, Epps decided 2011 was the year for him to make the leap up into car racing. While many of his peers jumped into InterSteps, Formula Ford or Formula Renault BARC, Epps made the decision to go into the prestigious Formula Vee series, which uses 105bhp single-seaters that lap just a couple of seconds off British Touring Cars at most UK circuits.
Three time London Cup winner Epps said: “Formula Vee cost’s around a third or even a quarter of the high price of InterSteps or Renault BARC, and at the time getting sponsorship to race in those cars seemed impossible coming from karting for us. Most either have a business owned in the family with contacts, or just simply have the money to pay for it straight away. I also wanted to do a “taster” car series to re-assure myself that I’m going to be capable in car racing, as it is actually quite common for a driver to be absolutely perfect in a go-kart and then struggle a lot in cars. It’s also been a handy and much cheaper way to learn and experience most of the UK’s race circuits, so now going into next year I have a brilliant grounding to help me be at the sharp end straight away in whatever I race in.”
The decision to join the Vee series was certainly justified as Hertfordshire-based Epps enjoyed a sensational season. On the pace from the off, he picked up his first podium finish in Round Four at Snetterton, before a great weekend at Donington Park saw him take his first wins in Rounds Five and Six. He went on to take three more podium finishes on his way to second in the championship and Epps, who also ended the year as comfortably the top rookie, is unsure as to why he was able to find such success in his maiden year.
Epps commented: “I’m not entirely sure. I had very little testing and turned up to most races brand new to the circuit, which didn’t help. I found, however, that I could simply get out there and just get on the pace right away, and it’s not an easy championship either.
“I made a point of preparing myself though, mainly my mind. Before going out I was always thinking about exactly what I need to do in that session, how much I needed to learn, what I need to achieve. I think that’s the way to be with it. There is also no doubt that my team GAC Motorsport, with Alan Woodward and Graham Card, has helped me massively and given me a competitive car. They have been brilliant.”
A mistake at the penultimate rounds at Oulton Park meant 19 year old Epps headed into the final rounds of the season within touching distance at the top of the championship standings, meaning the teenager was to face a nerve-wracking title deciding weekend in his first season of car racing. Epps coped with the nerves well though and put in a strong performance, just missing out on the title by nine points.
Epps explained: “It was a little annoying, as my silly error at the Oulton Park round, ending up in me not finishing, is what really put me in that position. It was a great feeling, being a title contender and being part of the main act in the Formula Vee show. The weather, as per usual, messed with the races quite a lot too. I must admit it was the first time I’d felt fairly nervous this whole year really, I don’t think I really showed it, but I believe nerves are good. It makes you sharp and boosts your concentration in my experience.”
At the start of September Epps, who studies Music Commercial Composition and Technology at the University of Hertfordshire, tested a Formula Renault BARC car for the first time as he looks ahead to 2012. Running with Antel Motorsport, Epps adapted to the car quickly and set a promising pace.
Epps reflected: “The test was good. I went in not knowing a lot about the car and how things go, but I felt like I really got down to it and learnt what I needed to learn. I knew I hadn’t got everything I could’ve out of the car, as I was still finding time and trying faster approaches to turns and different techniques. It’s completely different to a Formula Vee, that’s for sure.
“I was really happy with my performance as I was only a mere couple of tenths off some fast-paced guys in the series such as Kourosh Khani, who was testing that day. Also, we were driving around the amazing GP Circuit, which was more of a challenge physically and just awesome to experience too. I coped well with the physical side of things, and with the knowledge that I still had a good half a second or more of pace in myself I’m definitely confident I could compete for the title should I race the series.”
Formula Renault BARC is the hope for Michael in 2012, but it will rely on him finding the funding necessary, as he concludes: “For me, Renault BARC would be a great championship to race in. It all obviously depends on funding, and I am working hard on that right now and through the winter. It’s not the only class I will consider, I have looked in to many other formulas too, but I will race in whatever funds allow at the end of the day. You never really know what can happen, but one thing is for certain and that’s that I’m going to give it my all to get where I want to be.”
Epps is looking for sponsors and partners to help him continue on his path up the motorsport ladder. People interested in supporting this bright young talent can contact him via www.michaelepps.co.uk