Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder recover to P8 and P9 after tense TCR Europe race 1
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
After one of the most intense and action-packed touring car races to date, Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder avoided carnage to both conquer a convincing top-10 despite a last lap battle between the ladies of TCR Europe.
As the sun set on the Autodromo di Monza, TCR Europe's 23 cars lined up on the grid for the opening race of the Italian round. Mehdi Bennani claimed pole position by 35 thousandths of a second in this morning's qualifying, edging Championship leader Daniel Lloyd. The two Peugeot 308 TCR cars of Jimmy Clairet and Julien Briché locked up the second row.
Starting in P13 and P14 respectively were the two female racers of TCR Europe - young Swede Jessica Bäckman and history-maker Michelle Halder, fresh winner of the last round at Zolder. After a frustrating qualifying for the Target Competition and Profi-Car Team Halder ladies, their target switched to surviving the first laps and making up more positions possible.
Bäckman showed great pace on Friday practice, but couldn't advance into Q2 and potentially missed out on a Race 2 opportunity when she struggled to find space in qualifying. Likewise, Halder reported some handling issues but was confident for a point-scoring finishes, in what is turning out to be an impressive rookie season in the continental TCR series.
When the lights went out, Daniel Lloyd had the better getaway and jumped Bennani at the First Chicane, leading the Moroccan Comtoyou driver, Jimmy Clairet and Julien Briché. The second and third placed drivers, though, had a contact coming into Lesmo 1 on the first lap, as the Frenchman oversteered into the side of Bennani's Audi. The poleman went wide and into the gravel, while Clairet was off at Lesmo 2 with front-left suspension damages.
Bennani’s race was over soon after as well, when he went off at Ascari with the aftermaths of the previous contact forcing him to an early retirement.
Daniel Lloyd thus inherited the lead, but had to watch his mirrors from the aggressive pack behind: the fast charging Julien Briché, Teddy Clairet, Pepe Oriola and Nicolas Baert started an incredibly tight battle for the top-5.
Lloyd and Briché went side by side at La Roggia and, after making a slight contact under braking, Briché stole P1 from the Brutal Fish Honda driver.
Both Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder had difficult starts and were caught up in the middle of the first lap chaotic action: Bäckman completed the opening lap in P15, while Halder had dropped back to P17.
In the second ProfiCar Team Halder Honda, Mike Halder started to make up positions quickly - in some very heated stages of the race, Michelle’s brother managed to move ahead of John Filippi and Felice Jelmini after a 3-wide battle on the main straight.
On the third lap, a massive group of cars went side-by-side at Biassono, with incoming drivers having to take evasive action to avoid running into each other. Inevitably, these scraps resulted in Teddy Clairet making contact and running deep into Parabolica. One lap later, he again collided with Felice Jelmini and crashed heavily into the outside barriers at the famous last Monza corner. Pepe Oriola was also a notable victim of the on-track battles, as he retired 4 laps into the race.
Both Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder started an impressive recovery through the field: Bäckman passed Colombani and advanced into P11, while Ryba also dropped back down the order after a spin.
The Target Competition Swedish driver - today the only member of the Bäckman family on the starting grid after her brother’s wrist injury in Zolder - continued to make her way into the top-10, as Michelle Halder followed her closely.
At the half-race mark, Julien Briché led Lloyd, Homola, Mike Halder and Baert. The intense battles throughout the field resulted in the top two slowly breaking away from the pack.
There was more drama when Mike Halder attacked Homola at the second chicane, went deep and hit the BRC Racing driver. Both ended their races into the gravel trap outside La Roggia.
Successfully in avoiding the carnage unfolding in front of them, Jessica and Michelle moved up to eighth and ninth place, after the 21-year old German had found a way past Bäckman.
Up ahead, Julien Briché extended his lead by over 3 seconds to Lloyd, while a huge 12 seconds gap divided the Brit to third-placed Baert, now busy defending the lowest step of the podium from the attacks of a storming Jelmini on his TCR Europe debut.
On the final lap, Jessica Bäckman attacked and passed Michelle Halder at Turn 1, re-claiming her eighth place. Halder couldn’t respond back after her bonnet went up in the air and she dropped into the clutches of Davidovski.
After 10 wild laps around the Monza circuit, Julien Briché claimed race 1 victory, ahead of Daniel Lloyd and Nicolas Baert who could defend his podium honor. TCR Italy specialist Felice Jelmini was fourth, in front of John Filippi in fifth. Sami Taoufik completed a stunning recovery to finish sixth.
Jessica Bäckman was P8 and satisfied with her performance after the disappointing qualifying: “I had a really bad start first of all, I don’t know exactly where I ended up but I lost many positions, but then I just tried to move forward and I first overtook one driver after the other as many were flying off the track - there were cars everywhere.”, commented Jessica after the first Monza race.
“In the end I could finish eighth, so I’m actually happy about that if we think about qualifying and the start, to finish in the top ten is good. I’m quite disappointed about qualifying because I know we had the speed but I got overtaken twice on the same corner so it ruined my lap. But I’m happy with this race.”
Ultimately, Michelle Halder could prevail on Davidovski and finished P9, clinching yet another convincing top ten in her third weekend in the series.
“My start wasn’t so good because I didn’t see the lights, it was difficult to see when the lights went out." - she said. "But actually the race was very good, a lot of good fights! I ended up eighth at one point, before my bonnet went up with a coupe of laps to go, but the lucky side is that I finished in P9 with an open bonnet. I hope that tomorrow, with a better start and some more fights, we can do another top ten”.
TCR Europe second race will get underway on Sunday at 13:00 CEST, with Target Competition's John Filippi starting from reverse grid pole.
Following a post-race penalty for Sami Taoufik, both Jessica and Michelle were promoted to P7 and P8 respectively, which earned them 18 and 15 points in the championship standings.