With the average age of Tony Gilham’s Team HARD drivers being 23, this has helped the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship to receive some fresh new talent, some of whom have competed at an international level.
This is certainly the case with Mike Epps, whose single seater career hit breaking point in 2014 whilst competing for Belardi Racing in the US Formula 2000 (USF2000) championship.
“Being a single single seater driver, you have got to have so much backing behind you for it, so it’s really difficult to do,” said the 24-year-old to TouringCars.Net at the official BTCC Season Launch (22nd March).
Epps was forced to withdraw from the USF2000 series after visa issues in March 2014, which dealt his hopes a hard blow, having already missed the first two rounds of the season.
“It all went a bit hazy and a bit difficult, so we came back to the UK and settled here. I did a Renault race at the end of 2014, just to keep my hand in.”
However, the Hertsfordshire driver would be given a lifeline by Gilham himself to make a switch to tin-tops, opting for a drive in last year’s VW Racing Cup.
It saw the Briton take five victories in the series with Team HARD, ahead of a return for this season before the BTCC opportunity came up.
“They look better, I prefer them and they look like proper cars,” he explained, when it came to making the decision that could help his career further, rather than being stuck on the sidelines.
“The fans seem more involved and it looked like a better way to go for me.”
He also went on to say that the opportunity to race in the BTCC came around very quickly, as a result of RCIB Insurance also assisting to get him into a top-rated series.
He further explained that to ease himself into the series he made the announcement the week before the Season Launch, which made things easier for him. This was even though multiple deals had been struck before a full-capacity grid was unveiled at Donington Park.
“We were talking about it over the winter, and it was a distant possibility at that point for it to happen, and then we had this opportunity through RCIB, which was very similar to Jake [Hill].
“They were looking to push young talent through, if you can call me that at the age of 24, and I suppose I am. I also worked hard to get a few other partners together and put the car on the grid for the season as well.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out there and having a go.”
Depsite his Toyota Avensis not running at the only official pre-season test, he is genuinely excited about getting the first mileage under his belt.
“I have to give credit to the team for putting it together, so as to be able to roll it out of the garage this morning, which was even difficult in itself.
“We’ll shake the car down, learn it and build it, before doing one more day of testing, which is to be planned before the first round at Brands Hatch.”
With three young, fast drivers on board for 2016, it could be expected that they will be able to make steady progress, even though the three Toyota Avensis will be initially running GPRM components.
Epps is looking ahead towards a season of moving forwards, especially with Hill and Chris Smiley being on board.
“I’ve always found myself able to push myself further than I would do on my own, I would say, like when there’s a teammate like Jake. I’ve had teammates come in and make me realize that where I’m at and help me to raise my game.
“That’s the case with Jake, especially with his performance today, where he’s going to push me further. Then we’re all going to feed off each other and eventually, hopefully, we’ll become the Team HARD monster in the paddock that no one can beat. That’s probably dreaming right now, but you’ve got to have high expectations and push hard, and go for it.”