For the first time this season we headed across the water - the North Sea to be precise - with Rounds 5 and 6 taking place at Circuit Park Zandvoort. This place has proven to be a real "Marmite" track over the years. Some drivers feeling it's outdated and not up to scratch, with others still hailing it as a truly legendary place to be.
Sakowicz came in with a healthy championship lead, looking to strengthen it further after great consistency in the opening two meetings. So far we had seen only two drivers win races, dominating both nights of racing in style - would we get the same again here?
Round 5 - Sprint Race
Morgan Butler was instantly on form, Qualifying fastest by a mere 12 thousandths of a second from Sakowicz, while Michael Blake impressed with 3rd, only another four thousandths back. Creanor was 4th ahead of Dempsey, who would benefit from the updated championship points system, which gives more generously in Qualifying. Ben Benneyworth would inherit pole position from the Top 12 being reversed, with Jacolette along side him. Daniele Giudici and Donni Henriksen would make up row two.
Off the start there was plenty of bumping and banging - Ben Creanor and Jack Johns becoming welded together almost, as they headed towards Turn 1. Donni Henriksen made a good getaway and got up to 2nd place but behind the aforemention Creanor and Johns would come together in what we'll call an interesting display of physics from iRacing. Morgan Butler would be collected, needing to pit for repairs and Michael Blake's run of bad luck continued as he was clipped by Creanor's car bouncing off the wall.
Sakowicz was starting to make a charge through the pack and was up into a podium position by the end of lap 2 - helped by the two 5ADay Racing cars coming together into the hairpin, as Dempsey looked down the inside only to have the door slammed in his face by teammate Jacolette. This invited the two Team Mood Springs cars into the mix.
On the outer fringes of the Top 10, Craig Shill had engaged in battle with the two PRAMAC Racing cars in front of him, while defending from the pair of Ocean Racing Technology machines behind! Giudici led Austin, Shill, Ellett and Malcolm. After a quick excursion off track though, Ellett would drop to 14th place behind Tim Cox and John Roberts.
As the light dropped and the headlights came on, the big train of cars at the front of the field was closing up - Stephen King setting the fastest lap of the race in his pursuit of Sakowicz, who eventually got past Henriksen and dropped him into the clutches of the guys behind. Benneyworth was still leading from pole position but would have a lot of work on his hands in the second half of the race.
Eventually though, on Lap 6, Sakowicz reached the front, taking Donni Henriksen with him. A couple of corners later as we started the 7th tour, Stephen King would also go through as a battle between Johns and Dempsey would break out behind - the two of them consistently comparing the shade of white vinyl their cars were wrapped in, even going to the extent of swapping samples.
King's pace would shine through as he tried to overcome Henriksen for 2nd place, but in doing so, everybody bunched up once again, with Johns, Benneyworth, Dempsey and Jacolette all getting involved. Stephen would throw everything he could at the Dane, but in the end he wouldn't succeed - a valiant defence from Donni.
Up top though, it was Sakowicz taking his third win of the season as Henriksen fought off Johns (eventually beating his teammate to the line), King, Benneyworth, Dempsey and Jacolette, with Daniele Giudici in 8th ahead of teammate Luke Austin. Craig Shill rounded out the Top 10.
Round 6 - Feature Race
Filled with yet more confidence, Sakowicz got off the line well in the Feature Race, but the attention was grabbed by an inspired Ciaran Dempsey who flew up to 3rd place from 6th before Turn 1! Unfortunately though, as he came out of said turn, he and Jack Johns made contact, getting stuck together and Dempsey ending up bouncing off the wall and coming back into the middle of the road.
Stephen King was then rear-ended by Ben Benneyworth, while slamming on the brakes in the melee, and as his car rolled back into the middle of the road, Craig Shill and Tim Cox were caught up, trying to take avoiding action. Ben Creanor, Victor Oliviera, Michael Ellett and John Roberts were also casualties as Kias bounced like pinballs from one side of the circuit to the other.
We saw fantastic accident avoidance from Morgan Butler and Ben Creanor, which was a real highlight of the broadcast. The pair of them making it through completely unscathed.
It wasn't over though, as behind the Safety Car, Tim Cox lost control while trying to catch back up to the pack, and as drivers slowed down to wait for him to rejoin, John Roberts re-opened his rival-to-Richard Branson space travel business, giving everyone a quick demonstration after being tagged by Michael Ellett. Cox would have another spin after this, with a very broken car.
The action got back under way with a two-wide restart at the end of Lap 4 - it was almost completely dark by this point. Sakowicz was still in the lead after a great jump on Henriksen, with Benneyworth, Jacolette and Luke Austin behind. Oliviera had a pair of moments in the first couple of corners with Lundgren and Roberts, but all would continue, albeit damaged further. Butler, Creanor and Blake were just ahead of it all, trying to make ground after their DNFs in Race 1.
Creanor would make it past Blake but soon after would make contact with Butler and drop it again. Give it a few corners more and there was a humongous shunt between John Roberts and Rob Lundgren - two teammates at BoosTED Motorsport outside of this series. The two of them just getting stuck together out of the final corner and piling into the barrier. Luckily nobody else got involved.
There was even more drama the following lap as Tim Cox and Jack Johns came together on corner exit, taking both of them out of contention. Morgan Butler meanwhile, was still moving forward, gaining places. He was now up to 6th ahead of Daniele Giudici. Luke Austin would be his next target, with his own sights set on Carl Jacolette.
Soon enough Morgan would end up ahead of Luke, then the pair of them would get past Jacolette after a slight touch put Carl on the grass out of Turn 4. All the while, Sakowicz, Henriksen and Benneyworth were getting further and further away up at the sharp end. We now had five of the 19 starters out of the race, which meant that everyone who finished would get points.
By Lap 10, after the pit stops had begun, the Top 3 had all completed their stops and it would be Donni Henriksen that was the highest placed of them, a long way ahead of Maciek Sakowicz, who was now behind Stephen King, and Ben Benneyworth who had lost a lot of ground, being closed in on by Jacolette and temporarily falling down to 11th.
Luke Austin led the race, but handed the responsibility over to Michael Blake by pitting at the end of Lap 11. Scott Malcolm rose to 2nd place at the same time. All the while, Sakowicz and King were having a great door-to-door scrap for 4th, which could eventually be 2nd place at the flag once all the stops had sorted themselves out.
Maciek would prevail and go on a hunt after Donni Henriksen, as Morgan Butler started setting fastest laps ahead of Creanor in 4th - the pair of them putting in a very strong drive through the field after the worst possible first race. Ellett and Malcolm found their Ocean Racing Technology cars both holding spots in the Top 10.
Sakowicz stayed absolutely glued to Henriksen's bumper for the entire final lap, throwing everything at it to try and take the lead, narrowly avoiding contact on multiple occasions, but after making contact at the final corner and showing some great sportsmanship, the Polish driver would gracefully back out to allow Donni to take his maiden win in the CDM ETCC.
Stephen King would round out the podium ahead of Morgan Butler, with Ben Creanor 5th. Carl Jacolette would score good points in 6th. Daniele Giudici was 7th ahead of Ben Benneyworth, who made a mistake on the final lap and dropped multiple places. As mentioned - the two Ocean Racing Technology machines of Scott Malcolm and Michael Ellett would complete the Top 10.
It was the first time this season we'd had two drivers taking a win a piece in one evening, with a plethora of incidents and overtakes thrown into a night of racing under lights that won't be forgotten in a hurry.
Sakowicz extends his championship lead, knowing that as long as he continues to score highly - not necessarily wins - at every meeting, he could have it plain sailing, but then again, this is touring car racing so you never know. We'll be at Zolder in two weeks time!
If you want to re-watch the action, you can view it here!