Solid weekend for Hemel’s Epps

Hemel Hempstead-based racing driver Mike Epps in action at Oulton Park in Cheshire at the weekend. Epps is now in seventh place in the drivers' standings. (Pictures by Jakob Ebrey Photography).
Hemel Hempstead-based racing driver Mike Epps in action at Oulton Park in Cheshire at the weekend. Epps is now in seventh place in the drivers' standings. (Pictures by Jakob Ebrey Photography).

There was another positive showing for Hemel racing driver Mike Epps at Oulton Park in the latest rounds of the 2018 Renault UK Clio Cup.

The Matrix Motorsport driver was in the mix and the team made their presence felt at the weekend for rounds seven and eight of the cup in Cheshire.

Matrix Motorsport's lead driver Epps.

Matrix Motorsport's lead driver Epps.

In both races the team’s lead driver Epps battled with the front-runners, setting lap times similar to the race winners, while his team-mates Andy Wilmot, Jeff Alden and Aaron Thompson all overcame issues to continue the team’s 100 per cent finishing record for the season.

Friday’s two 45-minute practice sessions began as planned, although during the second a broken bearing in Epps’s gearbox ended his day prematurely.

After Ciceley Motorsport sportingly loaned a replacement unit, the Matrix technicians worked into the early hours to have Epps’s #37 Clio ready for the morning.

Saturday dawned dry and overcast, which provided a contrast to the scorching conditions at Thruxton three weeks ago. As it transpired, the change in temperatures made little difference to the team’s qualifying positions and the line-up for the first race saw Epps in seventh, Wilmot in 15th, Thompson in 16th and Alden in 18th.

Even starting from the fourth row on the grid, the team was confident that Epp’s pace could deliver a podium result if circumstances prevailed.

In traditional cup style, the start of Saturday afternoon’s race was a hectic affair, with the field piling into the first corner – the right-hander of Old Hall – almost as one.

While Epps was forced out of a couple of places, Thompson was to fair worse, exiting the bend on the grass and making contact with a barrier on the outside of the track. Thankfully the damage was only cosmetic and with a half-missing front bumper, the 19-year-old was able to continue to finish 17th.

Wilmot and Alden managed to avoid the turn-one excitement, with another solid drive from both to claim 14th and 17th positions respectively, although Alden’s progress was interrupted when he spun trying to get past Nicolas Hamilton at Cascades.

Meanwhile, at the front end, Epps was clearly quicker than many of the cars ahead of him but, such is the nature of the circuit and the equality of the cars in the series, he was unable to get past until a demon move going through the Hislops chicane on the final lap, which moved him up a place and into eighth.

If Saturday’s race one was hotly contested, then Sunday’s race two was even more so, due to both the action and ambient temperature.

While Epps started one place lower than race one, the withdrawal of a fellow competitors saw the other three Matrix men start a place higher.

All four got off to a flying start and climbed places as they exited the first corner, Epps moving up to seventh place and getting himself firmly embedded in the leading pack.

But for Epps’s team-mates, everything changed in the second corner.

Contact between two cars caused Jade Edwards to spin into the barrier on the exit of Cascades, the impact pitching her car upside-down.

Wilmot was just behind and amazingly, in-car footage showed him driving underneath Edwards’ Renault mid-flight.

He also clipped the barrier but not anywhere near as hard and managed to get his Clio back to the pits where the Matrix mechanics checked for damage and quickly changed the two front wheels before sending him on his way.

Alden also fell foul of the second corner and in a separate incident was tagged into a spin. The impact caused his left-front tyre to deflate and he too, needed a hasty visit to the pits.

By now the safety car had been deployed and the race was put on hold for three laps while Edward’s car was recovered. When the green lights came back on, Epps made up another place as he exited the first corner and went on to finish in a well-earned sixth place – again, setting lap times that were on pace with the front-runners.

At the start of the race Thompson’s weekend looked like it was getting better, but the onset of gear selection issues meant for the final two-thirds he dropped back to 15th. Despite a vibration and off-set steering, Wilmot made the most of what he had and finished a credible 12th, whilst Alden also did the best he could following the pit stop and went on to score his highest finish so far in 14th.

The team said it enjoyed a “positive weekend, overcoming a variety of challenges” and putting even more experience under their belt.

The outcome of the weekend sees Epps now in seventh place in the drivers’ standings while Matrix Motorsport are in fourth in the team rankings.

The former British Touring Car Championship driver Epps said afterwards: “I’m happy that we took a step forward this weekend.

“It was just frustrating that, although my fastest laps were quicker than many of the cars ahead of me, being where I was in the chain of cars it was difficult to get past and I had to constantly defend.

“There’s only tenths in it, so if I can get a better run in qualifying and start closer to the front of the grid, it won’t take much to improve the finishing position.”

The next racing weekend is on June 23-24 in Croft, North Yorkshire.