Editor’s Note: In our continuing From the Cockpit series, Belardi Auto Racing’s Michael Epps offers the following recap of his race weekend on the rolling hills of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. We thank Belardi Auto Racing and their drivers for their support and the excellent insights their drivers have offered us through this series of articles. At the end of the article, you’ll find links to Belardi Auto Racing’s and Michael’s social media connections. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, since I’ve not written on this site before, may I say a nice big British “Allo” and thanks for checking my latest blog out!
no images were foundI’m yet another driver of the now five-strong Belardi Auto Racing USF2000 team, impressive is it not? Since joining them mid-season I have had a great time in Canada, racing on the streets of Toronto, and most recently taken to more familiar territory at Mid-Ohio!
I was actually enjoying an unusually hot and long summer in England following up to the triple-header weekend, I almost didn’t want to leave! After a meet up and pep-talk though with the family and my manager Martyn of P1 Sports, we jumped on the plane to get there early for an event in Columbus, OH on the Wednesday before race weekend. It was the Rally For The Ranch car show and banquet held by Bobby Rahal and his foundation, honoring Al Unser Jr and supporting the Buckeye Ranch. Great fun and a great privilege to listen to and talk to a pair of legendary drivers from back in the day. It was quite a tight schedule we were running, driving an hour up to the hotel near the track late that night before testing in the morning.
The first test day was half spent running in gearbox parts on the car and solving a couple of other issues, so the second half was the only thing we had to go by. I was in the mix and we had an idea of where we wanted to go with setup, but Mid-Ohio is one of those tracks as we found out the next day going into qualifying. In an attempt to find a lot more pace, we made a few moderate changes to the car before qualifying. There was quite a gap between the top ten and onwards so we knew some people had landed on their setup and others hadn’t. I don’t think we did in this case, the track gripped up hugely for the qualifying session and I didn’t quite get my optimum lap, which set me back in seventeenth place. Gutting.
no images were foundIt happens, I guess. None of it mattered on Saturday morning for race one though as it was raining, I was pretty happy about this being from rainy old Europe. I love wet racing, it’s something we get more of a chance to try out over here in fairness compared to racing in America. I was starting seventeenth with a load of confidence, and while others seemed to be falling off the track, making mistakes or just using the wrong parts of the track, I was storming through. The downside was the amount of caution laps due to crashes; most of my time was spent behind the safety car keeping the tyres warm. In the three laps of green racing we had I managed to climb to fifth place, just a couple more laps and I reckon I would’ve been going for a podium or win! Nevertheless it was my first top 5 finish, I was happy enough with that from where I started. A great run for both the Belardi team and me in the wet weather!
Race two was later that afternoon and sure enough some sunshine and hot air had the track back to usual dry conditions. Me and Angelo, my “New Yoik” based Italian engineer had discussed things a lot and hoped we’d found a better setup for ourselves than in qualifying. With a really good start, I was up into the top ten about mid-way through and the car felt pretty good. I was pushing really hard and had a little issue with snappy oversteer through some of the faster bends. One lap I made a mistake at turn nine, letting it catch me out a little too much, and took a little detour off the track hitting a bump. This knocked the steering out of place and dropped me to twelfth, where I finished. I was a bit frustrated because I’d kind of made the error myself, but we still weren’t quite there initially pace-wise.
Another long evening of thought provoked some good setup changes for the final race on Sunday morning. It seems there was a lack of thought during the start from some though, as ahead of me as we crossed the line was a huge wreck of cars just heading everywhere. Two cars up the front end had collided and sure enough everyone behind just began piling into them. Being far enough back I dodged a couple of straying cars, a drive shaft and a few other bits to get though. I’ve not seen a crash like that before! Sure, I’ve seen worse things on YouTube, but not through my own visor! Driving past it the second time round behind the safety car was a little worrying, especially as I noticed the three team-mates I had ahead of me were all out.
The race was stopped, one of my team-mates was taken off to hospital with a minor concussion, and by the time the clean up was done we had about twelve minutes of racing left due to the busy time schedule of an IndyCar weekend. I was really determined now, the other drivers of Belardi had come up to me and said: “just get up there man”. It was down to me to put on a good show for the team. Starting thirteenth, that was going to be hard, but I was ready and we were confident our setup changes would work too.
no images were foundSure enough, everything came together well on the restart and I passed three cars on the first lap to take tenth, then another two on the next lap for 8th place. I was on a roll and passed another for seventh on lap three, but here was where my challenge got tough. The next guy in sixth was a good few seconds ahead and we probably only had about five or six laps left to go. I pushed hard and got on to the back of him by the end, but it wasn’t enough and so seventh is where I finished. I was fifth fastest though and was held up on my best lap by a back marker, so I felt like we’d at least found a good dry running setup by the end of the weekend.
After the last race, I feel confident and excited going in to the next one at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, now that we’ve found a dry setup on the car that works for us on road courses I think we’ll be challenging for much better qualifying positions providing we get it all right at the times needed. It was a fairly up and down weekend in terms of emotions for me, but overall definitely a character-building one with plenty of learning points. I’m looking forward to taking all this to California and seeing what I can do for team Belardi!
Stay tuned, and check out my Driver Diary blog on IndyCar.com if you’re interested in reading more of my views on the season so far!
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