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GT4 Europe: Mixed feelings for Jessica Bäckman in learning weekend at Spa

Jessica Bäckman showed good speed in qualifying despite track limits resulting in a start from the back; the Swedish driver then had great recovery drives in both races at Spa, as she continues her learning-oriented season in GT4 machinery.

Photo credits: SRO / Kevin Pecks

Jessica Bäckman had a challenging weekend at Spa Francorchamps for the third round of the GT4 European Championship, as the Swedish driver continues a learning-oriented season in GT4 machinery. Bäckman - who shares the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 with her brother Andreas - was hungry for revenge after difficult rounds at Paul Ricard - the second weekend of the continental series - and Oschersleben, the curtain raiser of the ADAC GT4 Germany championship. Technical issues and a few incidents have in fact hampered the sibling's first part of the season, but the Bäckmans are nevertheless collecting crucial experience at every race meeting in their first season after stepping up from touring cars. "We have had a rough start to the season, we have the speed in us, now we will try to get it into results this weekend", Jessica said before the weekend. "Spa is a track we know well from TCR, so it will be fun to try it in our Aston Martin GT4 car also in this weekend's strong field of 62 cars" - she continued. Despite a few technical gremlins, the season opener at Monza clearly showed Jessica and Andreas Bäckman have the pace to battle at the front of what is arguably the world's top GT4 field, featuring some of the best teams and line ups in the world of GT racing. Supporting one of the highlights of the sports car racing calendar - the Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa - the Belgian round had the extra excitement of the drivers' parade into the town of Spa. The action started on Thursday with the free practice sessions and continued into Friday morning with the two qualifyings, tackled by Andreas and Jessica respectively. In Q1, Andreas was 15th fastest overall and tenth among the Silver class and which set the grid for Race 1. Jessica also had found a better feeling with the car and proved that the Swedish duo would be able to battle in the front running positions: her best lap would have put the #19 Aston Martin in P12 overall - but a track limit infringement would result in a start from P34 in race 2. "Frustrating qualifying that started with a red flag", Jessica explained, "after that there was a restart and I knew I only had one chance while the tires were at their best to get a good lap which I managed, but unfortunately the lap was then canceled due to track limits by only a few centimeters and then I had to settle for 24th place in our class."

Photo credits: SRO / Kevin Pecks
Race 1

Andreas took the start of race 1 from tenth in class; he would lose a position over the first lap, just before the safety car was deployed - when a contact at the final chicane took out of the race the #45 Fullmotorsport Audi of Noam Abramczyk and the #44 Allied Racing Porsche. Florian Briche had a brilliant start and completed the first lap in the overall lead, retaining first place from the Sainteloc Audi of Gregory Guilvert and the Racing Spirit of Lemans Aston Martin of Victor Weyrich. At the green flag, the front running positions remained unchanged; Andreas Bäckman settled in P12 in class and just within the top-20. The pit window opened for the mid-race driver change: most of the teams at the top extended their first stint by a couple of laps. Andreas Bäckman had been struggling for pace in the first half of the race and pitted from P8 in class on lap 11 and handed over to his sister Jessica. A full course yellow was deployed soon after, when two separate incidents took out the #48 GPA Racing Aston Martin of Tom Verdier - tagged and sent into the tyre barrier by the #78 Elite Motorsport McLaren - and the #76 Centri Porsche Ticino car of Patrick Hofmann. A messy pit stop had dropped Jessica Bäckman all the way to P43 overall and 25th in the Silver category. While the overall top two were unchanged after the round of pit stops - with now Julien Briche and Christophe Hamon behind the wheel of the #24 JBS Competition Aston and the #42 Sainteloc Audi - Ricardo van der Ende had brought the #117 L'Espace Competition BMW up to third. The race went back underway with 8 minutes to go: Briche was surprised at La Source by Hamon and the Audi took the lead - as Briche was also overtaken by the BMW of van der Ende, who completed a spectacular double pass to move into first place at the end of Kemmel. Briche made a mistake at Stavelot and lost third to Gabriele Piana (Hofor Racing BMW) as well, before positions were restored. Jessica Bäckman attempted an impressive recovery drive and gained a few positions in the overall classifications - but ultimately finished 24th in Silver class.

Photo credits: racing one
Race 2

Heavy rain made the second race on Saturday morning an extremely challenging one for all teams and drivers, who drove in those conditions for the first time over the weekend. The race went underway behind the safety car, with Jessica taking behind the wheel from P23 in Silver. Pavel Lefterov (Overdrive Racing Porsche) led the pack from Alex Denning and race 1 winner Ricardo van der Ende. More accidents in the very poor visibility made for more safety car neutralizations; the green flag was back in the air on lap 6. Bäckman made no mistakes and kept it on track, while more accidents led to more safety car interruptions: following a contact between the #14 and #67 Sainteloc Junior Audis, the pit window was delayed. There was more chaos when the race was green flagged with 30 minutes to go, as the #42 Sainteloc Audi, second in ProAm, was hit at the Bus Stop chicane. Jessica had kept her cool and drove up the order with good pace up to P14th in Silver when she pitted and handed over to Andreas in a flawless pit stop. Having rejoined P21 in class and P25 overall, Andreas also made up positions in his driving stint and had pace to break into the top-20 overall. After 20 laps, Antoine Potty crossed the finish line to take the win in race 2 aboard the #8 Toyota Supra GT4 he shares with Cheli, and preceded the #3 Team Speedcar Audi and the #12 Borusan Otomotiv BMW who had briefly led in the first half of the race, Andreas Bäckman completed race 2 with a promising 18th place finish in the Silver class. Unfortunately, a 11 second penalty for a 0.3 shorter pit stop than the minimum allowed time dropped the Bäckmans to P20 in class and P26 overall, but plenty of positives were taken from the weeknd's second race, where the Swedish drivers showed enough speed to recover from 34th on the grid. "It was a learning weekend for us and we had good speed in qualifying, unfortunately we didn't get to show it on the track because traffic and track limits prevented it", Jessica said. "But in the rainy Race 2, we were one of the fastest cars and advanced up through the field." Jessica will be returning behind the wheel of the #19 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 for the fourth round of the European GT4 Championship at Misano, Italy, on July 14-16th.



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