Leeds, Ala. - Englishman Michael Epps not only claimed his first-ever USF2000 victory today in Round 4 of the six-round Cooper Tires Winterfest at Barber Motorsports Park, he also put an exclamation point on his day by dominating Round 5 later in the afternoon. Epps became the fourth different winner in as many races over the past five days.
Belardi Auto Racing teammate Florian Latorre ensured an excellent day for the Indianapolis-based squad by claiming a pair of podium finishes, while RC Enerson, from New Port Richey, Fla., maintained his championship lead by virtue of finishing fourth and second in the day's two races for Team E Racing.
Epps, 21, from Hemel Hempstead, England, was keen to build on his momentum after finishing third in the final race at NOLA Motorsports Park last Saturday. He did so in style this morning by claiming his first pole at this level.
After a brief rain shower obliged the entire field to switch to wet-weather Cooper tires on the grid, Epps slipped back to third place in Turn One behind Latorre and Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport), who made a spectacular getaway to vault from sixth to second. The Englishman quickly set about redressing the balance following an early caution period.
Epps displaced Franzoni at the restart, then tracked down Latorre before making a decisive move to the inside under braking for Turn Five on Lap 11. Once in front, Epps inched away to win as Latorre barely managed to edge out Franzoni for second.
Enerson finished fourth despite intense pressure from Jake Eidson (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing). A little farther back, Peter Portante snuck past ArmsUp Motorsports teammate Aaron Telitz for sixth on the final lap.
The track was fully dry for Race Two, and this time Epps remained in control throughout. His progress was interrupted by a couple of full-course cautions, but he was perfect on each of the restarts and took the checkered flag 1.948 seconds clear of Enerson.
Latorre ran a relatively lonely third, while Telitz took a fine fourth following a race-long scrap with Eidson, with whom he had battled for last year's F1600 Championship Series crown. On this occasion is was Telitz who emerged on top.
Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing), the youngest driver in the field at age 15, enjoyed his best race so far, rising from 12th on the grid to sixth ahead of Portante and JDC MotorSports teammates Clark Toppe and Scott Andrews.
The extra championship point for fastest race lap means that Enerson holds a slender seven-point advantage, 114-107 over Epps prior to tomorrow's final race. In the Team Championship, Belardi Auto Racing holds a healthy 31-point margin over Team E Racing.
Michael Epps #44 P1 Sports/UNATION/iRacing/Anytime Fitness UK (Belardi Auto Racing): "This was a similar kind of race as Race 1 except I didn't get passed at the start but there was still pressure on me. RC [Enerson] was there the whole time and I could see him but I seemed to have control over the gap and didn't want to overdo it and take it off. I got a radio call saying I've been pipped for the pole [for Race 3] by like half a tenth. I tried on the last lap but I couldn't get it right and got a couple of apexes wrong so I'll start P2 tomorrow but it was a cracking day - a pole, win, win. It was perfect.
"It is such a great feeling because we came from nowhere last year and to come here now and win. There's been a lot of work over the winter and it has really paid off."