An Interview with Michael Epps, Renault BARC Championship Driver
British competitors in Motorsport is a common theme and standing out from the thousands of aspiring racing drivers takes some doing... and Michael Epps certainly stands out from the crowds. The British/New Zealand 20 year old driver is making his way up the ranks and is certainly somebody to watch out for the in future. Currently driving for the Jwa-Awilla Racing team in the Renault BARC Championship he took some time out ahead of his upcoming races to speak to me a little about his past, present and future.
Hi Michael! Previously you have said that racing for you is more of a reason to live rather than a career to you. How and when did you realise that this was the case for you?
I'm not exactly sure when really. As I progressed through my first couple of years of karting, things were always getting better every weekend. I'd enter better Championships, get my first win, pull off an awesome overtake and want to do it again and again. It's that feeling of doing better than last time, that's a big part of it. My whole family now lives around racing and we'd all feel pretty lost if we didn't have another race to work towards. I don't find anything else in life nearly as interesting as racing any more, so a career in it would be perfect. Nothing gets the adrenalin rushing in the same way.
Through working your way up through the karting competitions you have overcome several hurdles. What was your motivation to keep going and what advice would you give to others who face hurdles within their own careers?
There have been many highs and just as many lows. It's a funny sport, things can go wrong very quickly and a great weekend can very easily become your worst. You've just got to keep your hopes high and make sure you don't make the same mistakes again. Someone once told me never to focus on the result, and only focus on my personal performance, which I believe makes a huge difference on how you look at a weekend's racing. If you keep working and working on yourself you'll eventually get there, you just have to keep the ball rolling.
What did you find most difficult from the transition from karting to a single seater car?
Heel and toe was a bit of a challenge for me at first, but to be honest nothing really phased me. The challenge is putting new techniques together and doing it the same every lap.
In 2011 you raced in the Formula Vee Championship and after a tricky start in testing you pulled out an incredible 11th-5th finish in the rain at Mallory Park. How was that race for you and do you find that you're pretty 'handy' in the rain?
Mallory was an interesting race for me. Being a race of many "firsts" (first race start, car race, wet race) I had a lot to take on. It more about keeping all fours on the tarmac however. I had a little tap with someone on the first lap and I also had to handle a sticking throttle during much of the race (in the wet that's scary!). I was surprised to come in to a 5th place after that, so much had happened during those accident filled laps that I had no real idea which of the grid I was at. I was known for being pretty handy in the wet weather conditions in my karting years. In Vee I found myself particularly comfortable in the wet, but now in Renault there is a much finer line between on the limit and over it. For me, racing in the wet is about finding quick lines or techniques before the others do.
You also took part in the MSVR Vee Festival at Brands Hatch taking on the likes of Sam Oliveria (Three times winner) and ex BTCC driver Eugene O'Brian. That must have been an incredible competition to be part of?
I really enjoyed that meeting, by that point I was one of the "ones to watch" in the series. I wasn't scared of the big names I was against, I felt like one of them. I found the tougher competition made me step up more as a driver myself, I was really on form that weekend. If not for the electrical problems, I feel I would've won it, but I had great fun coming through from the back. A highlight aside from coming through from 24th to 2nd in both races was a brilliant moment passing for third place down the main straight in the first final. I was squeezed right over and was basically rubbing against the pit wall at 120mph... I got the place.
Into 2012 and you've just come away from your 2nd weekend of racing for the Jwa-Awilla team in the Formula Renault BARC Championship. How are you finding the new championship and what are the main differences between BARC and F1 aside from the money and speed?
It's a great Championship I have to say. I've had rotten luck so far but hopefully looking to improve at Thruxton soon. Renault BARC is a club championship essentially for young drivers coming through the ranks; some drivers aim to then move into Formula 3, Renault Euro-Cup, Renault World Series, GP3 and GP2 which leads to F1. This is a ladder that not many will successfully climb however. The difference in technology between F1 and BARC is huge.
In your career so far what do you feel has been your best moment?
I had a brilliant weekend at Donington last year in Formula Vee, I won both races. In the first I was trading places with 4 other cars every lap but eventually got away to win by a few seconds, the second race was a similar story. That was one of those sunny weekends where everything just goes right.
Looking into the future, where do you aspire to be in 5 years time?
It depends how things go really, at the moment I'm busy just trying to get some funding for the end of this year and the next. My biggest help so far this year is Anytime Fitness, a health and fitness club franchise that own nearly 2000 clubs worldwide. I'm hugely happy and privileged to have them on my side and hope to work closely with them in the future. Check out their website www.anytimefitness.co.uk . My local gym, which I use every day, is in Hemel Hempstead - http://www.anytimefitness.co.uk/gyms/uk-0002/gym-hemel-hempstead-uk-fitness-centre . They are soon to open many new clubs across the UK, Basingstoke being the next in mid-June!
As for the future I've been thinking about the GT route, looking at Le Mans and how all that side of Motorsport is going. My team are actually racing at Le Mans this year, so I've found out a lot more about sports car racing and met a lot more people in it. Single-seaters is still very much a consideration for the future, though.
What is your ultimate ambition for your motor sport career?
I would love to get to Formula One, but I've got to look around at things realistically and consider all future options. I know so many people from my karting years who have taken so many different routes in Motorsport. All I want is success, to win at what I'm doing and to make a decent living out of it. I dream of driving an F3 car, and in a single-seater route that would probably be my next step, but considering that Formula 3 will cost about 10 times what this year is costing, you can't just say "I'm gonna race F3"... I'll be looking through the Summer and close-season to sort my racing for 2013.
And finally what makes you different from the thousands of other aspiring racing drivers?
Ah, that old chestnut. That's a secret, but if you keep following my races in the future you might find out.
To follow Michael's story why not give him a follow on Twitter , Facebook or through his website all of which are updated regularly. Michael is also always looking for new sponsors and promotional things to do so anyone who wishes to ask or arrange something with him is 'absolutely welcome'.
I would like to take the time to thank Michael for the opportunity to speak to him about his ambitions and current racing and I would also like to wish him the very best of luck for the future races.