GT4 Europe: Jessica Bäckman battles extreme Misano heat to gain positions in Race 2
While it was a challenging start of the weekend for Jessica Bäckman, the Swedish driver recovered from a difficult qualifying and battled the extreme Misano heat to gain positions in race 2, finishing P18 in class in the fourth round of the GT4 European Championship.
Two weeks after the Spa Francorchamps round in support of the Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa, the GT4 European Championship made its return to the track in Misano, for its second Italian round of the season. The Belgian race had brought mixed-feelings for Swedish siblings Jessica and Andreas Bäckman, who showed good speed in qualifying as well as good recoveries in the races, but were not yet able to fully capitalize on their pace. Nevertheless, their rookie season in GT4 machinery - after several years spent at the top of touring car championships - was clearly going to be a learning-oriented one, focusing on learning the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 as well as a different format of racing. Heading into the fourth round of the series, the Bäckman siblings also had to learn a new track, as it was their first visit to the 4.226 km Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli. A technical circuit with high speed sections, the track suited Jessica and Andrea's driving - even though they had to build speed progressively in practice. Progress was made coming into qualifying, but unfortunately the Bäckmans were still a bit further down compared to the positions they aimed for. Andreas qualified in P23 in the Silver class for race 1, while Jessica was P20 in class for race 2 on Sunday - which resulted in a challenging start of the weekend. Unfortunately, qualifying proved to be even more important than usual, with passing at Misano made even more tricky by temperatures: the extreme heat both in the air and on track resulted in engine and brakes overheating as soon as cars were following each other. Andreas took over the #19 racing one Aston Martin at the start of race 1 and gained a position at the start, as the huge 44-car field had a mostly clean start. The Swedish driver was up to P19 on lap 6, despite the heat soon proved to be a challenge. 15 minutes into the race, the first Full Course Yellow was deployed when the #53 W&D Racing Team's BMW M4 GT4 of Massimiliano Tresoldi went off and made contact with the barriers at Curvone. The green flag waved again shortly after - but more contacts resulted in Noam Abramcyk having to retire his IDEC Sport Audi in the gravel, triggering a second neutralization. As soon as the action resumed, the pit window opened and drivers took the chance to complete their mandatory driver change: Andreas Bäckman handed over to his sister Jessica from P19 in the Silver class. Unfortunately, her race would end in the gravel and, with the safety car out on track, her race was over. Gabriele Piana took a last lap victory over Robert Consani after a prolonged battle in the second stint.
Jessica Bäckman had another chance on Sunday morning, this time from 20th on the grid among the Silver cup entries. The young Swede had a clean start and held position, then battled hard in the crowded midfield: Jessica moved up to P20 in class, also gaining several overall positions, as the pit window approached.
Temperatures had risen even further and Bäckman also experienced the difficulties of overtaking in such conditions, despite having better speed than a few cars ahead.
When the pit stop window opened, the team kept Jessica out a few more laps to allow her to gain some time in clean air; she would climb up to P13 in the Silver cup just before Andreas took over on lap 18. Once the pit window closed, he resumed in P20.
Andreas also made up a few places during his driver stint and, in an uninterrupted race from start to finish with no major incidents, the Swedish duo crossed the finish line in 18th place in class.
"The extreme heat causes you to lose engine power and braking efficiency, and thus it is very difficult to advance in the race", Jessica explained after the weekend. "Both Andreas and I did our best from the tough starting position."
"We worked on trying to get the car better over the weekend and took small steps forward", she continued. "So there were still small positive steps forward even if it is far from what we know that both we and the team are capable of."
Jessica and Andreas Bäckman- now focused on their GT4 European championship programme - will now have time to analyse data and regroup, as a six week summer break separates the Misano round from the Hockenheim race meeting, on 2-3 September.
The German track might be a lucky charm for Jessica, who scored her first historic TCR Europe podium in 2019 - and will be aiming to turn around her season after a few challenging rounds.