After a nightmare six months on the sidelines, Michael Epps tells TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk he is ready to make up for lost time with a USF2000 championship challenge next season, after recently making his racing return in the Protyre Formula Renault Championship at Silverstone.
2014 had begun in a positive manner for the 22 year old as he started his second season racing in USF2000, with a first two category victories and second overall in the pre-season ‘Winterfest’ event earmarking him as a potential title contender for the main championship.
Unfortunately for Epps though, problems with his VISA as he attempted to enter the States for the opening rounds of the season in March left him forced to sit out the weekend at St Petersburg, and with a solution not found before the next rounds he was forced to withdraw from the series.
For any driver a long break on the sidelines can be tough to adjust to, though as Epps explained to TCF at Silverstone, while it was a difficult period at times he used it as a chance to recharge his batteries.
“It’s been one of those rollercoaster journeys. I had to get a local job and live a weirdly ordinary life compared to the last few years, but it was kind of good to take a break from it though,” Epps reflected.
“March and April were dark months for me, having everything set up for a championship and then literally having it all taken away from underneath you is the worst thing, so to be able to chill out and do ordinary things for a few months was probably what I needed.”
Whilst he appreciated the time off, Epps was desperate to get back behind the wheel of a single-seater and the opportunity came with an eleventh hour return to Formula Renault BARC for the final rounds of the 2014 season.
It marked his first appearance in the category for nearly two years, having last competed in the 2012 Winter Series with Core Motorsport, and it proved to be a tough reintroduction to the Renault grid in an “undeveloped” SWB Motorsport car.
With his first time in the car coming in the official Friday test sessions, Epps faced an uphill struggle to re-acclimatise to the car and battle with the front-runners, eventually coming away with eighth and sixth place finishes.
“This was a little bit rushed really, coming back like this. It was literally Wednesday in the week running up to the meeting that it was considered,” explained the GPR and Anytime Fitness-backed driver.
“On the Friday I was sat there thinking ‘I just want a full test day’ before this, as I was making progressive changes but we didn’t have anywhere near enough time to actually get the car onto a competitive level. It also took me a little longer than I thought to change my driving back to the Renault.
“I wanted mainly to get some seat time this weekend, and that’s what I got, plus it was a good test for me to develop setup and to try and get the most out of a car I could in a short space of time, so it was definitely a useful weekend.”
While the UK single-seater scene is presenting a number of intriguing opportunities for drivers in 2015 with BRDC Formula 4, Formula Renault UK and MSA Formula, Epps is firmly focused on making a return to the US and the Road to Indy ladder next season.
“The US is definitely still the primary focus. You could say we pretty much grabbed the TV remote and pressed pause on my career for a year,” he said.
“I’m working hard to get everything sorted at the moment. I don’t know exactly when things will be back on track, but hopefully by Christmas time we can be all sorted out and ready to go like we were a year ago.”
Once everything is finalised, Epps is keen to get back to the states as soon as possible to begin a testing programme with the Belardi Auto Racing outfit he joined three rounds into 2013.
Despite the time out of the series, Epps is confident he could return with a championship challenge next year.
“I’d like to think we could return and be at the front again,” he concluded. “I’ve got all the video and all the data from last year, so it’s a case of channelling all that back into my mind and jumping back into the car.
“I’ve got more experience now, I’ve got all the necessary confidence, and the team are very competitive so we’re all set for a good year.”