The Chaz Draycott Media European Touring Car Championship had shown some great promise in pre-season testing at Oulton Park. All the drivers knew that it could be anybody's guess heading to Silverstone for Rounds 1 & 2. A 15-minute sprint race with the top 12 reversed on the grid from Qualifying, followed by a 30-minute feature race with a mandatory pit stop, was what lay ahead.
Round 1 - Sprint Race
Practice once again highlighted the original point - it was going to be incredibly close all season! 0.086 of a second covered the top three, with less than half a second covering 6th down to 17th. Jack Johns and Stephen King were making their mark with a 1st and 3rd, separated by the always-fast Ben Creanor. Pre-season winner Ciaran Dempsey was next up ahead of Morgan Butler, who had something to prove after contact at turn 1 in pre-season testing, ended his night.
Qualifying was soon upon us and it was more of the same - cars separated by absolutely nothing - quite literally in the case of Johns and King who set identical times on the same lap. At times there was less than a tenth covering the top 6 cars, with more of the same further down the order. Jack Johns eventually taking pole position and 3 championship points, ahead of Morgan Butler, and Stephen King. Sakowicz was 4th ahead of Creanor and Blake, with Carl Jacolette inheriting pole position as the Top 12 would now be reversed. He would have John Roberts alongside him, followed by Craig Shill, Jason Rowe and Scott Malcolm.
A steady start would see Jacolette lead the field away with Creanor launching off the line as he did in pre-season testing, unfortunately though, running wide at the first corner and taking Roberts off with him. They both lost lots of positions and Creanor had to pit for repairs. Shill and Malcolm had dropped back slightly off the line and were being swallowed up by the pack, four wide into the first couple of corners. Stephen King would get down the inside of Shill, who then got a tap, turning Michael Blake into Ciaran Dempsey - the two cars being flung into the air with big damage. Sakowicz jumped up to 2nd by the end of the first lap, overtaking Bayliffe's Vertex Esports car.
The battles then got under way as drivers tried to settle into a rhythm and assess those around them. The chaotic start jumbling the already hard-to-predict order up more than the grid reversal had. Chris Harber ended up off the circuit at the end of Lap 2 after contact with Roberts, as further up the road, teammates would collide in the form of Jack Johns and Stephen King as they tried to fight their way through the top 10. Maciek Sakowicz had now passed Jacolette for the lead.
Adam Wright was on the move in the EMKA Racing car - starting right near the back after not qualifying, he'd made his way up to 15th in just 3 laps. Jon Bayliffe was pressuring Jacolette for 2nd place with Rowe and Malcolm holding station in 4th and 5th, until a slow down penalty put him to 4th. Behind them, Morgan Butler had kicked off a fantastic scrap with the two Team Mood Springs drivers and had backup on the way in the form of his teammate Ben Benneyworth.
It wasn't long until it came to a head though - coming out of Club corner, Butler had gone down the inside of Johns, but as the cars got stuck together and Jack turned in towards the apex, he spun Morgan across his nose and down to 14th place. While recovering, after losing so much momentum, he had a similar incident at the very next corner with John Roberts who'd gone down the inside - the DNA Motorsport driver losing out big time and dropping outside of the points.
Bayliffe had dropped down again before long after a little tap from Scott Malcolm under braking into the final chicane sent him flying off to the right, into the gravel. He managed to continue, albeit down in 9th. The real battles were kicking off further back though - an epic and sometimes chaotic scrap between Harber, Hoffmann, Oliveira, Shill and Creanor gave us plenty of contact to look at.
Up front though, Sakowicz seemed unstoppable - the BSR Kia Club Series Season 1 champion was showing that he hadn't lost it, by taking a great first win of the season. Jacolette performed very well to hold on to 2nd place with Jason Rowe getting his first league podium on iRacing. Malcolm was 4th ahead of Stephen King and Ben Benneyworth, with argy bargy contact all the way down the order to the flag. Chris Harber would be the only car to get a time penalty all meeting after hitting the 20 incident point limit for the sprint race.
Round 2 - Feature Race
With the grid for Race 2 being an identical copy of the Sprint Race result, drivers could carry on where they left off, but with clean cars, zero incident points, and hopefully less contact. Dempsey, Blake and Creanor would be interesting ones to watch from way down the order.
Jacolette struggled off the line from 2nd place while Rowe got a dream getaway but couldn't hang it around the outside of Sakowicz into Turn 1. Benneyworth's Abruzzi car clattered into the side of Stephen King, narrowly avoiding smashing into Scott Malcolm on the rebound, but both continued. This bunched the field up and gave us more 3-wide and 4-wide action through the first few corners, which were very well behaved, until Adam Wright went into Becketts a bit hot and nailed John Roberts' door and gave him a slow down for being so far off the track.
Some epic racing ensued on the opening laps - Michael Blake just about avoiding an incident with Daniele Giudici while Rob Lundgren testing his suspension over the kerbs, and Craig Shill getting slapped by an already-sideways Michael Ellett after a tap from Oliveira. There was yet more contact involving EMKA Racing cars at the end of Lap 2 - Chris Harber and Luke Austin making contact before Harber's teammate Wright slammed into the side of Austin's PRAMAC Racing machine.
Scott Malcolm went down the order after being tapped off as part of a domino effect - Donni Henriksen too late on the brakes, pushing King into the back of Scott, while Harber continued moving forward despite his hit with Austin and had a fantastic fight with Bayliffe, Mitchell and Butler. Just behind, Jack Johns got held up by a bit of a check up into the final few corners, and got hit by Blake and Wright, still all continuing and showing us just how resilient the Kia Optima GTS is - no wonder it has a 7 year warranty.
Stephen King was a man on a mission now, chasing down Jason Rowe for 3rd, with his sights set on Jacolette in 2nd and Sakowicz still just in visual range. Further down, Dempsey hadn't made as much progress as expected, making it up to 16th place by Lap 7, but then again, with how feisty the entire field was getting the further back you went, it was understandable.
Donni Henriksen was looking racey too in 5th place until a slow down penalty put him back behind Ben Creanor, who'd come flying up the order from right near the back into the Top 5, with the leaders in view. This was helped more by Stephen King and Carl Jacolette battling for 2nd place and Jason Rowe being held up - Ben eventually getting by on Lap 9. Jacolette and Henriksen were two of the first drivers to pit from the Top 10.
Sakowicz pitted from the lead at the end of Lap 10 as well as Creanor - who had made it up to 2nd - King, Butler, Roberts and Lundgren. Jason Rowe now inherited the lead for a couple of laps with Harber, Benneyworth and Bayliffe following on.
The times in the pits were very varied between drivers, dependant on how much fuel they'd taken and how many tyres. A lot of them opting for all fours, while some took just fronts and some even taking just one side to save time only jacking the car up on one side. Victor Oliveira had a suspiciously fast stop which he admitted afterwards was for not taking tyres - he would later be disqualified for this, adding insult to injury after being nailed by Michael Ellett into Stowe.
John Roberts' very character-building return to Kia racing had another incident ready for him - this time Giudici running deep into the braking zone at Stowe caught him out, and he bounced off the side of the PRAMAC Racing car like it weighed twice as much as his DNA Motorsport machine. His teammate Ben Hoffmann would stay out the longest, not pitting until Lap 15 of 19, where he'd get a pit lane speeding penalty, and call it a night on the spot.
The aforementioned Giudici would also have another moment with Jon Bayliffe - another driver whose patience was being tested on the night. This time Daniele seemed to think he was clear of Jon going into Stowe, and before long was across his nose, making a great save, but in doing so, elbowed Jon off the track in a way that he couldn't perform a similar save.
In a very similar repeat of Race 1 though, Maciek Sakowicz had controlled every lap from the front with absolutely zero challengers. Combine that with a pit stop that gave him a 10-second advantage by only taking tyres on one side, and it was a very dominant start to his campaign that will have drivers wondering what they can do to challenge him. Donni Henriksen would finish in a very impressive 2nd place ahead of Carl Jacolette who got two podiums out of two!
Morgan Butler came home 4th for good points ahead of Stephen King, Jason Rowe and Jack Johns - the two Team Mood Springs drivers ending up in the same positions at the end of both races. Luke Austin would finish 8th ahead of Ben Benneyworth and Daniele Giudici who held on to what was left of his car for a Top 10 spot.
This means that Maciek Sakowicz leads the championship by 12 points from Carl Jacolette with Jason Rowe in third another 8 points adrift. In the Teams Championship it's Team Mood Springs who are top after their 4 points in Qualifying kept them ahead of Bladespeed Esports, getting all of their points courtesy of Sakowicz. 5ADayRacing are tied for 3rd with Abruzzi Racewear.
"Honestly I wasn't expecting a win tonight, let alone two. It's nice to be back in the car. I forgot what real understeer is. You can make it step away but you have to be so precise with this car."
- Maciek Sakowicz
"That was unexpected to say the least - I don't feel particularly confident in these cars but after the pit stop I felt like it just had pace. It just felt right."
- Donni-Hald Alfer-Henriksen
"Wow, I'm blown away. After such a difficult last week with an infection in my eye I wasn't 100% sure I'd be able to drive. I'm here and absolutely blown away with that - fantastic!"
- Carl Jacolette
The championship returns on the 1st of June as we race around the wonderful, historic Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit for Rounds 3 and 4.
If you'd like to watch the broadcast back, check it out below!