GTWS: Gabriela Jílková & Jessica Bäckman score 3 second places at Navarra
At Navarra, latest round of GT Winter Series, PROsport Racing's Gabriela Jílková and Jessica Bäckman – in a one-off appearance and at her very first outing in a GT4 car – clinched three second place finishes in the respective sprint races and in the 60-minute endurance, showing quick adaptability for the young Swede.
GT Winter Series has often been the perfect testing platform for teams and drivers preparing for their upcoming season and has lately provided exciting racing with big fields across all classes. The series promoted by Gedlich Racing has additionally been a great training ground for female drivers: Gabriela Jílková claimed the overall title in 2021 and was back fighting for victories in 2022, in an edition that also saw the debut in touring cars for Nerea Marti.
In 2023, Jílková joined the GT4 field once again – this time in a brand new all-female driver line up: the experienced Czech racer teamed up with French driver Célia Martin, a Nurburgring Nordschleife specialist who is aiming to expand her GT4 experiences in 2023.
Jílková and Martin will share the wheel of a PROsport Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in a yet to be announced championship; the German team has therefore jumped on the opportunity of entering selected rounds of GT Winter Series, with the aim of helping the drivers familiarize with the car and with the team's dynamics.
At Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, in the previous round of the championship, Jílková and Martin got in the rhythm and claimed a win and two podiums out of the two sprint races and the endurance competition, showing promising speed.
The penultimate race meeting at Circuito de Navarra, Spain, saw a different line up for PROsport: alongside Jílková, Swedish touring car ace Jessica Bäckman made her first ever GT racing start. Bäckman, 25, has been one of the protagonists of the TCR championships all around Europe and made history claiming 4 wins and 14 podiums in five different TCR series.
After a shootout selection at the end of 2022 – where Bäckman drove an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 for the first time – the Swedish driver took the opportunity to put some more mileage under her belt and joined the field at Navarra. While she had a big challenge to face, Bäckman was soon on pace, ready to put on a fight in the races.
With testing scheduled for Friday and Saturday, all the qualifying and race sessions were contested on Sunday. The two 15-minute qualifying sessions saw the #250 PROsport Racing Aston Martin slotting into second and third place with Jílková and Bäckman respectively behind the wheel.
'Quick Gabi' was just two tenths off the pole position time of Jan Philipp Springbob in the #85 CV Performance Mercedes, while third place for Bäckman was a strong statement in her first ever GT4 qualifying.
Jílková took the start of the first 25-minute sprint race; after a chaotic start, the Czech driver dropped to third place in class on the first lap. Gabriela had to battle with a few Porsche GT3 Cup cars that had slotted in between the GT4 entries, costing some time to the PROsport driver.
Nevertheless, she signed some fast laps and eventually managed to climb the overall order, catching up with the GT4 rivals – just before a Safety Car neutralized the race on lap 7, following the retirement of the #72 Ferrari 488 GT3 of Uwe Lauer.
The green flag waved with a little over 4 minutes left on the clock – and Jilkova soon leapfrogged a few Cup 2 cars, hunting down the sister PROsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 of Mike-David Ortmann. With a great pass on the penultimate lap, Gabriela grabbed second place and crossed the finish line only 0.726 seconds behind the leading Mercedes AMG GT4 driven by Springbob. With her second place, Jílková was the fastest of the three PROsport entries.
At her first start in GT racing, Jessica Bäckman had a brilliant getaway and gained several positions in the overall classifications, moving up from 19th to 15th and, most importantly, gaining second place in the GT4 class.
As positions settled, Bäckman maintained a good gap to car behind. Simon Colin Primm, the race leader, received a track limits warning, but was never under pressure and soon opened a gap in the #85 Mercedes AMG GT4.
In the final minutes, Guillaume Dumarey - who Bäckman had overtaken on the first lap – closed the gap to the Swede, but Jessica was able to masterfully defend and held off the attacks of the PROsport sister car throughout the final laps, crossing the line in second place and clinching a podium in her first ever GT4 race.
Primm secured the second sprint race victory for CV Performance Mercedes, ahead of Bäckman and Dumarey.
Gabriela Jílková was back in the driving seat for the first half of the 60-minute endurance race in the late afternoon, starting from second place in class behind Simon Colin Primm (#85 CV Performance Mercedes) and ahead of the other PROsport Astons driven by Mike-David Ortmann and Guillaume Dumarey in the opening stint.
Jílková had a good start and overtook the Mercedes of Primm, but was passed by the #48 Aston Martin of Ortmann, thus retaining second in class. Jílková then increasingly closed in on the race leader throughout the first stint, putting pressure on the PROsport teammate.
After a bad start, Primm recovered positions and made it back to third place, just behind the #250 Vantage GT4: the top three in class were at one point battling separated by a couple of tenths. Gabriela had to watch her mirrors from the fast charging Mercedes, but was also looking for a gap to get into the lead; midway through the race, the Czech driver dropped to third, just before the pit window opened.
During the pit stop stages, Primm went longer and allowed his CV Performance teammate Springbob to rejoin in the lead; behind him, the PROsport Aston of Sokolovskiy was second, with Jessica Bäckman taking the wheel of the #250 entry in third place.
The Swede settled in her rhythm and soon started to log faster laps than the car ahead; on lap 30, Bäckman made a move stick on Sokolovskiy, while keeping Dumarey – also eager to make up a position – just behind.
As the clock ticked down, Primm/Springbob took GT4 victory in the 60-minute endurance
race, ahead of Jílková/Bäckman and Dumarey/Dumarey.
In the one-off weekend at Navarra, the all-new female duo claimed three second places out of the three races, showing impressive adaptability. While it is no surprise to find Jílková battling for the win in any GT4 competitions, Bäckman's GT racing debut was highly remarkable, showing big progression throughout the weekend and great racecraft.
"P2 in my Sprint Race & P2 in the Endurance Race together with Quick Gabi" – wrote Bäckman on Sunday. "Great weekend, learning a new car and making progress every session! Big thanks to PROsport for a super fun weekend".
While her racing season was off to a great start, Jessica's 2023 full racing program has not been revealed yet.