Jessica Bäckman completes best weekend in GT4 Europe at Barcelona season finale
"Fun to end the season with a positive weekend with good speed in both the qualifyings and the races after a challenging year" - Jessica Bäckman completed her rookie season in GT4 machinery with her best weekend to date in GT4 European Championship that resulted in a P11 finish in race 2.
Jessica and Andreas Bäckman rounded out their first season in GT4 competitions with their best weekend to date, consistently fighting within the top-15 and ending on the doorsteps of the top-10 in class at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, which hosted the sixth round of the European GT4 Championship.
Among 44 entries including some of the world's top GT4 teams and drivers, the Bäckman siblings showed great improvements in the final round, as they maximised the two Spanish races showing good speed and battles; while Jessica and Andreas had in fact the potential to climb the order in the rest of the season, several unfortunate circumstances - from accidents or issues - had prevented them from collect the results they wished for.
A strong start at Monza saw Jessica and Andreas make their first start together in sportscar racing and qualified in the top ten straight away, showing glimpses of their speed - despite some car issues dropped them down the order in the races.
An accident at Paul Ricard took them out of contention for the whole weekend, but they bounced back at Spa, where they could showcase again their speed and fighting spirit: Jessica and Andreas gained several positions in the races, in two recovery drives that left them with mixed feelings.
Extreme heat was the biggest issue at Misano, where engine and brakes overheating made for a challenging weekend in the Italian riviera. Nevertheless, the Bäckman siblings still recovered good positions, before taking on the Hockenheimring in September. While in contention for a strong finish, Jessica was hit and had no chance to avoid a big crash in the closing stages, which again took her #19 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 out for the remainder of the weekend.
Circuit de Catalunya was therefore a chance to finally showcase their potential, on a track where Andreas had previously found success in TCR competitions and that he describes as one of his favourite circuits.
"It will be exciting to race again, and we are hungry for revenge and hope we can finish the year in a positive way", Jessica added before the weekend. "Last races haven't been what we wanted but it gives us extra motivation for the season finale to show some strong results against the 43- car strong grid".
The Spanish weekend was indeed off to a good start for the Swedish duo, who featured in the overall top-10, eighth in class, in the official test session. They continued to run competitively in practice, when they posted a 1:51.016 that was the fastest lap of the session by an Aston Martin. Ahead of Saturday morning's qualifying, work continued to improve the balance of the car.
Andreas was the elected driver for Q1 and, while he was fast from the get go, he lost his lap time to track limits. He eventually posted a 1:49.580 that put them in P12 in class, despite encountering traffic in the final sector that cost him at least four tenths and likely four positions.
It was then Jessica's turn for Q2 - and the young Swede had another strong run: although she had to overtake several cars during her fastest lap, her 1:49.912 was enough for tenth place in the Silver Cup, in one of the team's most competitive qualifying of the season.
Andreas took the start in Race 1 and found himself in the midst of the action at the tricky turn 1 and 2, where he had to take to the gravel trap and lost a few places. Luckily the #19 Racing One Aston Martin did not sustain damage and he could continue from 15th in class - having also picked up a few spots following a multi car accident that took out Gustavo Xavier's #442 W&S Motorsport Porsche and the #13 Overdrive Porsche of Tzonev, which soon brought out the safety car. The race resumed with 42 minutes to go and Andreas Bäckman started his recovery drive. In a clean race ahead, the two Elite Motorsport McLarens led the pack, having passed the Speedcar Audi that had started from the front row. Bäckman reported difficulties in moving up the field due to overheated brakes and tyres and, once the pit window opened, the team opted to keep him out on track longer to run in clean air. During the pit cycle, he ran as high as sixth overall and third in Silver Cup class, before pitting on lap 17, when Jessica took over the reins of the Vantage GT4. Having rejoined in P17, Jessica was put in a difficult position, as she had to fight her way up the order towards the end of the pit window. "We went into the pits quite late, so I got out on the track when most of the cars had already been in the pits, so then it was important to be there and fight straight away", she explained. "But I kept calm and moved forward step-by-step, even though the car was difficult to drive with overheated brakes and tyres", she recalled. Nevertheless, the Swede powered her way up to P14 in class, equalling her best finish of the season, previously secured at the first Monza race. Jessica's strong run gave the Bäckman siblings their third top-15 of the season, as they entered the final race with optimism for the improvements made. The race ended under safety car, with Elite Motorsport's Tom Emson taking victory ahead of the #3 Speedcar Audi and the #36 ProAm Alpine.
After carefully reviewing data, Jessica and Andreas Bäckman made a few adjustments to the car's setup ahead of race 2 that ended up working well.
From P10 on the grid in the Silver class, Jessica Bäckman had a few close calls in the hectic first lap, where she was sandwiched between several cars and had to give up a few positions. But, once the dust settled, she found her rhythm and felt at ease with the car, as she started to move up the order once again.
18th in class after a safety car neutralization at the start of the race, the Swedish driver followed closely the #48 Aston Martin of Louis Meric once the race resumed and, showing great pace, she picked up a couple of positions before the pit window opened.
Jessica stayed out a few more laps after a very solid first stint and pitted on lap 14, handing over to her brother Andreas from P16 overall and P13 in class.
At the end of the driver changes, Andreas Bäckman had gained one position overall and settled in P15 in class, barely one second adrift the #4 Mercedes of Marc de Fulgencio.
Micheal Schrey emerged on top of the overall classification after the pit sequence and the Hofor Racing BMW continued to lead the McLaren Artura GT4 with Scott Mitchell now behind the wheel.
Bäckman had a clean stint and, with 10 minutes to go, he battled in a big group of six or seven cars all trading places for the top-15 overall. Andreas held his own and moved up to P13 in class with some great passes and good racecraft despite some lack of top speed on the straights. A great duel with Bostandjiev for P11 followed - and the Racing One driver emerged ahead, finishing just outside the top 10 in class and 14th overall.
Michael Schrey took victory in race 2 as well as the 2023 GT4 European Championship title, with a dominant season finale for the Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport's duo.
In arguably one of their best races of the season, the Bäckman siblings secured their best result in the championship - a P11 in class that is more representative of their potential.
"Fun to end the season with a positive weekend with good speed in both the Qualifyings and the Races after a challenging year", Jessica commented. "The balance in the car was the best I've experienced all season, especially in the Qualifying, and then it's extra fun to drive."
"Many thanks to our team racing one, our sponsors and everyone who has supported us this season", she concluded, as the Swedish drivers will now aim to build upon their learning season.