Difficult weekend for Jessica Bäckman in WTCR Hungary
Jessica Bäckman faced a difficult weekend at the Hungaroring, as the young Swede is struggling to find the best setup for the new Hyundai Elantra in WTCR. Despite the tough round, Jessica keeps third place in the Junior WTCR standings.
Jessica Bäckman, the first ever woman to compete and score points in the new WTCR era, returned to Hungaroring after her 2019 TCR Europe experience at the venue located just outside of Budapest. This time, she would tackle the fourth round of the most prestigious Touring Car Championship in the world.
The Bäckman siblings switched to the Hyundai i30 TCR to the new Elantra car at the eve of the 2021 WTCR championship and the first part of their rookie campaign has been a learning curve. At the season opener on the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife, though, Jessica scored her first points with a P14 in race 2 and was close to a point finish at the Portuguese round in Estoril.
For the first time this year, Bäckman headed to a circuit where she had previously raced on – hoping that her previous experiences in the TCR Europe series at the Hungarian track could provide her a little advantage in the fourth round of the World Touring Car Cup.
"Hungaroring is a very nice circuit – it's nice to be back on a circuit where I've been to before. We raced here in TCR Europe back in 2019 and it was my first international race." said Jessica on Friday. "It was quite a good race as well, we were fast both me and my brother, so hopefully we'll have speed this weekend as well."
With Hungaroring being now open to race fans, the event also offered a glimpse of normality, with the passionate Hungarian fans flocking the circuit for one of the most popular events on the calendar.
"I have seen it on TV, it's like F1 and it looks very good" – continued Bäckman, "It's nice to have some fans here as well, I'm sure it will help!"
At the Hungarian race, Italian TCR regular Nicola Baldan joined Target Competition in a one off entry, joining the Bäckman siblings in the Italian squad.
"It's nice to have another driver in the team, so hopefully we can share some information together and we can all move forward, which is very important for us." - commented Jessica. "I never really met him before , so it'll be nice to see what kind of driver he is, but I think it'll be a good thing."
Gilles Magnus started Sunday's race 1 on pole, ahead of teammate Frederic Vervish and Yvan Muller, while Jessica had qualified in P20 after a difficult qualifying. The Belgian polesitter had a strong start and kept the lead while staying clear of the Turn 1 skirmishes - where an aggressive Mikel Azcona hit Muller as he moved into second place and forced his rival to a comeback from the back of the pack.
In the following corners, Monteiro, Coronel and Guerrieri fought hard in a chaotic first lap and Jessica Backman found herself in 22nd place behind her brother Andreas - who had not set a competitive lap time in qualifying due to a cut tyre.
On lap 3, home-hero Tassi emerged from the midfield battles but then made contact with Lucas Engstler made contact; the Hungarian racer would also have a tussle the following lap with Italian Gabriele Tarquini.
At the half race point, the two Audis still led the field, while the Cupra driven by Mikel Azcona was closing in on Ehrlacher for the third spot.
A recovering Muller mixed in with Tarquini, Tassi, Berthon and Vernay – as this train of cars offered the best action of the race segment. On Lap 7, Azona moved into third place and overtook Ehrlacher – but the race was neutralized a few moments later when Huff stopped on track after a strong impact with a kerb.
The action resumed with 3 laps to go and Jessica Bäckman and a good restart: the young Swede reached the 20th position, while ahead Magnus increased his gap from Vervisch.
The final 2 laps saw the duel for second between Vervisch and Azcona: the two drivers had a fierce side-by-side battle with a solid defense by the Audi driver – but in a desperate last lap attempt, the aggressive Azcona hit the Belgian and moved to second, followed by Ehrlacher who had also taken advantage from the situation to overtake Vervisch.
The duo crossed the finish line behind the undisputed leader Gilles Magnus, while Jessica Bäckman ended a tough Race 1 in 20th place.
After an action-packed Race 1, the second race on Sunday turned out to be a quieter one. Polesitter Rob Huff was forced to start from the pit lane due the issues reported in race 1 and it was thus Uruguayan driver Santiago Urrutia to take the start from the first spot on the grid, ahead of Norbert Michelisz and Nestor Girolami. Jessica Bäckman lined up in P20.
Race 1 podium scorer Frederic Vervisch was the protagonist of a strong start and moved up to second place at Turn 1 while, after a slower getaway, Michelisz spun and Azcona was once again caught up in a contact with Yvan Muller.
Jessica Bäckman had a difficult start and stalled, which made her second race an even more difficult one as she chased down the pack.
Her brother Andreas was out at Turn 3 and Gabriele Tarquini was forced to retire with engine problems.
In the following lap, Urrutia led the field followed by Girolami and Vervisch – the latter having to defend from the attacks of Azcona for the third podium spot from the fifth lap onwards.
The chequered flag marked Santiago Urrutia's first win of the season in WTCR with a dominant performance. Girolami and Vervisch completed the top three.
Jessica Bäckman managed to catch up with the cars in front and completed a challenging Hungarian weekend with a P21 in the second race.
"It was a difficult weekend for us – especially in the races we were struggling a lot to get the car working in the races" – said Jessica. "We tried some adjustments for race 2, which worked better in the beginning of the race, but then after a few laps it came back to what it was before".
"[It was a] tough weekend for the whole team, we are struggling to achieve the right settings on the car, for the car to behave the way we want it to. We were hoping for more speed this weekend considering we know the track well since we raced there in TCR Europe back in 2019 with good speed", she explained.
"Overall it was difficult, but thanks to the team for working hard" – concluded the young driver. Despite the difficulties, Jessica holds the third place in the Junior-WTCR standings.
As WTCR announced earlier this week, the calendar has undergone a few changes, with the addition of a round in Czech Republic, France and Russia – that will replace the Asian venues due to the logistic difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic. After a month break, Autodrom Most will host the next WTCR event on 9-10 October.