After visiting a few circuits that were very narrow, twisty and short, the series needed some breathing room and a place for drivers to let their hair down, so Spa Francorchamps was a very welcome stop on the calendar. Sakowicz came to the Ardennes Forest with a huge championship lead of 59 points over Stephen King and Donni Henriksen. Team Mood Springs were top in the Teams' Standings from Bladespeed Esports.
Jack Johns continued to show his great pace in the Kia by Qualifying fastest, just under a tenth ahead of Mats Borge Andersen - who has been impressive since his very first session in the car with the series - and Michael Blake got more points on the board, going third fastest. He was just over three tenths clear of Morgan Butler with Sakowicz six thousandths back in fifth. It was Jason Rowe who would be reversed on to pole position, with Ben Benneyworth alongside him. Ciaran Dempsey and Mark Woodhouse would make up row two.
Round 9 - Sprint Race
Off the line, Jason got a good launch and would hold on to his lead until the end of the Kemmel straight, where Bayliffe would go ahead and take Dempsey with him, despite the latter running massively wide. Behind, Benneyworth got a huge slow down penalty, dropping down out of the Top 10 after cutting Raidillon. Morgan Butler made strong early progress, gaining five places in the first half a lap!
Down towards Pouhon, King, Johns and Jacolette were close together, and after one small wheel-bang between the latter was off hard into the wall. Carl would continue but the car was very damaged on the right hand side. At the end of Lap 1 though, Bayliffe hda gained five spots to lead Dempsey, Rowe, Butler, Woodhouse and Henriksen.
Soon, Morgan Butler would make his way up into 4th, passing Woodhouse and going after Jason Rowe. Further down the order, John Roberts managed to navigate past Giudici with a slight bit of contact - they had Ben Benneyworth and Craig Shill waiting to pick up the pieces. Just up the road, Jack Johns pulled off a beautiful move on Woodhouse to go 6th, bringing Andersen with him. Mark Woodhouse having a terrible lap and dropping from 4th down to 8th.
Next up it was Stephen King's turn to have a go at Team MAD's "Studmuffin" and contact was on the menu - the two of them rubbing panels on multiple occasions but staying on track thanks to the sturdy nature of the Kia Optima GTS. At the top of the order, Butler had now passed Rowe as the top four had concertina'd together. Before long he'd overtaken Dempsey as well, with his sights set on race leader Bayliffe.
Into the bus stop chicane at the end of Lap 3, Donni Henriksen missed his braking point, and got into the side of Jason Rowe, the pair of them becoming stuck together around the right hander and losing a bucket load of places. There was more drama down at La Source as the Danish driver did it again, this time hitting Woodhouse, with John Roberts getting turned by Giudici in the melee. Soon after, Henriksen would retire from the race.
It wasn't long before Butler took his charge to the very front and got the lead from Jon Bayliffe - it had been an inspired drive from 10th on the grid! Jack Johns had also pulled a strong run out of the bag, making it up to 4th place behind Dempsey with one lap to go. Andersen had made it up to 5th, with King, Blake and Sakowicz behind. Ben Benneyworth recovering to 9th.
Bayliffe was unable to take the place back and crossed the line in 2nd, meaning the Morgan Butler took his maiden CDM ETCC victory! Dempsey got some strong points and (quite unbelievably based on his pre-season testing pace) his first podium of the season, with fastest Qualifier Jack Johns in 4th. Andersen would complete the Top 5 with the drivers behind holding position with Craig Shill coming home to complete the Top 10.
Round 10 - Feature Race
Butler wouldn't get the start he wanted for the Feature Race, with Dempsey taking the lead straight off the bat. Jack Johns and Jon Bayliffe would fill Morgan's mirrors down to Eau Rouge. Blake would make it up to 5th while the lead changed back on the Kemmel straight - Butler returning to the top. Mark Woodhouse and Daniele Giudici would get their elbows out in a great scrap, until Daniele ended up on the infield at Jacky Ickx corner.
At the end of the first lap, Mats Borge Andersen pulled off a textbook move to regain 5th position from Blake, hoping to stick with the leaders. The Top 10 were one big train out of La Source so he didn't have too much to worry about at this point but the Sprint Race showed us that it could very quickly change with all of the slipstreaming down the Kemmel straight.
Stephen King got back ahead of Sakowicz while Donni Henriksen started having some issues, that would later lead to his second retirement in as many races. Into the Bus Stop Chicane, Jack Johns took 2nd from Dempsey, albeit temporarily. Ciaran showed his commitment by getting the place back at Eau Rouge, before it all went to pot at Les Combes, both of them running in too deep, meaning that Dempsey would drop to 5th behind Bayliffe and Andersen.
Just behind, Michael Blake picked up a slow down penalty and dropped places behind Sakowicz and King as Scott Malcolm and Daniele Giudici came to blows - the battling just as intense further down the order for the final point-scoring positions. It was the train from 3rd down to 10th that was the most impressive - all of them nose-to-tail trying to take advantage of any tiny mistakes.
Sakowicz moved up to 5th ahead of Dempsey who started going backwards on Lap 4, with Stephen King coming through and Michael Blake piling on the pressure. At this point, the Top 10 was Butler, Johns, Andersen, Bayliffe, Sakowicz, King, Dempsey, Blake, Benneyworth and Shill.
It was now that the pit stops started - Jason Rowe, John Roberts, Carl Jacolette and Scott Malcolm the first ones to blink. Down the road, a great battle broke out between Andersen, Bayliffe and Sakowicz, stemming off a great run that Andersen originally had on Johns - another example of how quickly things can change in racing like this.
A huge train of cars made their way into the pits at the end of the following lap, lead by Jack Johns. He'd be joined by Bayliffe, Dempsey, King, Blake, Sakowicz, Lundgren and Woodhouse. The only cars that hadn't pitted now were Butler, Andersen, Benneyworth and Shill, but they'd be in next time around.
Bayliffe would gain a lot of time on Jack Johns in the pits and come out as the leader, even after Morgan Butler had been in - the previous race leader losing a load of time and coming out in 8th place! Mats Borge Andersen would also have a poor stop and come out in 7th. Mark Woodhouse had a short stop and gained the most places out of everyone.
As everybody filtered back into their respective situations, a number of battling duos developed, the first of which changed when Dempsey gained a place on the road from John Roberts coming out of Stavelot. In just one lap though, Morgan Butler had gained two places back - one from Andersen then another from King. Then it wasn't long until he cleared Woodhouse as well - he was on a real mission!
This left Mark in the clutches of Stephen King - the pair of them treating us to a number of beautiful corners side-by-side, millimeters from making contact. King eventually prevailing. Unfortunately though, Woodhouse would drop another spot, going too hot into Les Combes and falling behind Mats Borge Andersen.
Just ahead, Butler's mission continued as he overtook Michael Blake and started nipping at the heels of Jack Johns - the pair of them providing yet more fantastic side-by-side action ahead of the final lap. Jack Johns would stay ahead through the Bus Stop Chicane with Blake very much still in the picture. Morgan took his chances on to the final lap through Raidillon and unfortunately got a slow down penalty, dropping him between King and Andersen.
There was a tiny bit of contact into Pouhon and Morgan came out on top ahead of King with Andersen taking advantage. Away from the action though, undisturbed at the front, Jon Bayliffe took a flawless victory ahead of Maciek Sakowicz and Jack Johns. Michael Blake couldn't progress further than 4th but had a great time getting there, and Morgan Butler rounded out the Top 5.
Behind them was Mats Borge Andersen, Stephen King, Mark Woodhouse, Ben Benneyworth and John Roberts, who got another Top 10 finish. Craig Shill was 11th ahead of Jacolette, Rowe, Malcolm, Giudici, Lundgren and Dempsey who was the last car to finish after needing to get a top up of fuel.
Spa Francorchamps had proven that a wider circuit and a bit of breathing room gave us a fantastic platform to experience some phenomenal racing on - we'll definitely be back! For now though, the circus packs up, waves goodbye to Belgium and moves on to Germany for two meetings there. The first of which will be at the Nurburgring, using the Grand Prix circuit!
You can re-live all of the action mentioned above by watching the broadcast back, below;