The Chaz Draycott Media European Touring Car Championship gets "properly" under way next Tuesday with Rounds 1 and 2 from Silverstone, using the International layout, but just last week, the drivers and teams were at Oulton Park to get some experience racing one another and in the cars that will be the stars of the series.
There's been a great influx of drivers from all over the iRacing community that are looking to get to grips with one of iRacing's real gems. Many of them had zero experience before the pre-season test so it was always going to be interesting to see how they got to grips with its buckets of power and very little turning capability - patience was going to be the order of the day.
The test would be a 90-minute Qualifying session followed by a 10-lap race, mimicking the usual 35km-long Sprint Races that will be first up at each of the 10 race meetings over the season. Most of the drivers enjoyed the car, saying it was bonkers fast in a straight line, but didn't turn to save its life - some of them returning after a number of years away from racing it competitively.
Early on it was Ciaran Dempsey, Morgan Butler and Craig Cameron making up the top 3, split by less than one tenth of a second - the theme of the times being close would continue all the way through the evening. Ben Creanor would soon start climbing up the times as Jack Johns (known online as TheRacingLine) went fastest by only 31 thousandths of a second. He would soon be joined by his Mood Springs teammate Stephen King at the top, only 5 milliseconds separating them, but the session would end with Ciaran Dempsey top.
As the race got under way, Dempsey would lead from the get go and never look back, while Creanor made his intentions known with a lightning fast start, gaining multiple places by turn one. Morgan Butler would unfortunately draw the short straw and bounce of Stephen King's machine and end his night in the barrier.
Cars were dotted about all over the circuit on the first lap, as is natural with touring cars at Oulton Park, and John Roberts began a new space program to rival SpaceX thanks to iRacing's physics, but the racing was very quickly back into an epic flow - exactly what was expected of these Kia Optimas.
Creanor soon moved ahead of Johns with a bit of contact, but the train stayed strong. Not too long into the race though, King was unfortunately caught up in an incident with a backmarker that took him out completely.
Dempsey would take a very flawless victory despite never driving the car before that evening, with Creanor just over a second back, followed by Jack Johns. Michael Blake was fourth after a very enjoyable evening back in the Kia and Scott Malcolm kept climbing the order to eventually finish 5th.
Benneyworth avenged his teammate Butler's demise with a 6th place finish ahead of Austin Greatorex who had to fight for his life in the closing stages. After a spin on Lap 1, Club Series Season 1 Champion Maciek Sakowicz made a great recovery to 8th with Adam Wright and Jon Bayliffe rounding out the Top 10.
One of the remarkable signs that this championship is going to be a real close one is the fact that twelve different teams took up the top twelve spots in the race result - something we definitely hope to see more of as the championship progresses.
The broadcast will be embedded down below if you wish to watch it back, and don't forget to Subscribe to Chaz Draycott Media on YouTube if you haven't already - that way you won't miss a thing when it comes to this already-exciting championship, and don't forget to join us live from 7:45pm on Tuesday the 18th of May for Rounds 1 & 2 from Silverstone!