At her first weekend in GT4 Europe in a one-off entry at Monza, Jessica Bäckman collected valuable experience for her rookie season in GT4, showing a glimpse of great speed in qualifying ahead of her ADAC GT4 debut.
Jessica Bäckman - alongside her brother Andreas - made a one-off appearance in the GT4 European Championship, one of the most competitive series in GT4 racing worldwide, with the aim of collecting experience ahead of their upcoming debut in ADAC GT4 Germany, where they will compete in a ProSport Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
For the two Swedish drivers it will be their first season in sportscar racing, having always raced in touring cars since their step up from karting. Jessica, 25, has in fact spent the last five years climbing up the ranks of the TCR platform, winning four races and collecting 2 pole positions and 14 podium finishes in five different series. She also became the first - and only - woman to have scored points in the World Touring Car Cup.
Bäckman then approached GT4 machinery for the first time last November, during a driver shootout in the US, and decided to make the step up full time in 2023.
She entered for the very first time a GT4 race in GT Winter Series, where she teamed up with experienced driver Gabriela Jilkova in a ProSport entry - and immediately secured two second place finishes.
The newly-appointed driver part of the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy programme will enter her first full-time season in GT4, sharing the wheel with her brother Andreas. While the two drivers had been teammates for several years in the past, the Monza GT4 Europe round was the first time ever when they goot to share the same car.
On a wet Thursday at the Temple of Speed, Jessica and Andreas got to build some confidence with the new bright-green #19 Aston Martin Vantage, which requires a very different driving style to touring cars and in a very different race format.
Improvements continued on Friday, where they got within the top-15 in a packed 51 car field.
The goal was to keep learning and make steps forward - and on Saturday morning both Andreas and Jessica got to showcase a glimpse of their pace in a spectacularly competitive qualifying, with a double top ten at debut. Andreas got behind the wheel for Q1, where he set the fifth fastest time - and fouth among the Silver Cup entries - before a red flag interrupted the session.
As the action resumed, Andreas Bäckman was sixth overall, in one of the most remarkable debuts. His sister Jessica, though, was just as impressive: up to third place overall in the opening stages of Q2, she recorded a 1:56.051 on her fourth attempt, which would gain the #19 ProSport Aston Martin a start from ninth on the grid in Race 2.
Benjamin Lariche (#3 Team Speedcar Audi) had clinched pole position, ahead of the #7 Aston of Louis Meric and the #42 Sainteloc Junior Team Audi of Gregory Guilvert. Despite the 50 cars on track, the first tricky chicane was a clean one for the whole pack; from third, Castelli moved ahead of Meric, making it a Audi 1-2 on the first lap. Andreas Bäckman had a cautious start and lost a few positions on the first lap, eventually slotting into 12th place, under pressure from a long train of cars. The first contact happened at turn 1 of the second lap, when Beltoise was collected by #46 Fullmotorsport Audi and had to retire. He could park on a safe spot and therefore the race remained green. The action, though, was neutralized when the #78 Elite Motorsport McLaren came to a halt before the Ascari chicane and, once the FCY was deployed, a big accident under the bridge took out the two NM Racing Team’s Mercedes and the #27 Newbridge Motorsport Aston Martin, which ultimately brought out the red flag. After over 30 minutes of interruption, the race went back underway behind the Safety Car with 46 minutes to go. Lariche had a good restart once the green flag waved, safely ahead of Castelli and Guilvert. 13th overall and 11th in Silver, Andreas Bäckman kept position ahead of the wounded #46 Fullmotorsport Audi. On lap 11, Castelli made a brilliant move for the lead at turn 1, then defended masterfully at La Roggia chicane, keeping Lariche at bay. As the pit window opened, Lariche immediately pitted for the mandatory driver change. Andreas Bäckman extended the stint until lap 14, when he pitted and handed over to his sister Jessica, who rejoined P11- in what was their very first driver change. After the round of pit stops, the #3 Audi lost several positions after its early stop; Cougnaud, who took over from Castelli in the #111 CSA Racing Audi, was then demoted by Consani in the #3 Speedcar Audi, who moved up the order and reclaimed the lead after an exciting charge. Carton, in the #7 Mirage Racing Aston Martin, had emerged in third place, just ahead the BMW of Gabriele Piana. After all pit stops were completed, Jessica Bäckman was 15th overall and 13th in the Silver Cup. The FCY was then deployed for debris on the straight leading to Parabolica after a tyre carcass was lost by the #74 Aston Martin. Piana moved up to third at the restart, while the top two went side by side into the first chicane – but was down to fourth after a three-wide scrap on the main straight which gained third to Tom Edgar. The Northern Irish driver also passed Cougnaud for second, followed by Piana. Edgar went for the move for the lead at turn 1 but went deep and came under pressure from Piana – allowing some breathing space to Consani. After a mental final lap, Consani took the win, ahead of Edgar and Piana. Jessica Bäckman's pace improved in the second half of the stint and she managed to gain two positions on the final lap to finish P17 overall and 14th in Silver – an overall positive debut for the Swedish siblings that brought the car back in one piece after a very chaotic race.
"There was a lot to learn for both of us in this race", she said. "There were a lot of incidents out on the track which made it hard to overtake. At the end of the race, the speed in the car was good and then we managed to take advantage of this and advance."
Piana and Consani lined up on the front row for race 2 on Sunday morning, after a delayed schedule due to power outages at the track. From ninth on the grid, Bäckman was looking to another strong, learning-oriented race. Consani had a better getaway but Piana held on at the first chicane; a tyre puncture for Consani, though, would take him out of contention for the win on the first lap. Jessica Backman had initially a good reaction off the line but dropped to eleventh over the course of the opening lap. The young Swede had to give up a few more positions in the early stages of the race. As a result of several battles among the front runners, Gabriele Piana could pull away and open a 6 second gap over Dante Rappange, who moved up to second having passed Hartvig and Lefterov. After many accidents, the Full Course Yellow was eventually deployed on lap 8, when the #87 Armada Racing Mercedes came to a halt. At the restart, Rappange had significantly reduced the gap from race leader Gabriele Piana; Tom Edgar was also making up places and climbed to fourth with a clean pass over the #46 Audi of Bottemanne. The pit window opened and the first cars dived into the pit lane with 32 minutes to go. Jessica Bäckman pitted soon after and handed over to Andreas on lap 13, from P19 overall. He re-emerged in P24, 16th in the Silver Cup. Piana pitted, leaving Rappange in the provisional lead; the #2 Hofor Racing by Bonk BMW cycled back in the lead after Micheal Schray took over from Gabriele Piana, in a smooth race for the duo. Behind him, Herremans held second in the #17 V8 Racing Chevrolet and the #22 Allied Racing Porsche, who temporarily held the lead before the end of the round of pit stops. When everyone completed the compulsory driver change, Andreas Bäckman re-claimed P19 overall and 15th in class. With 15 minutes to go, Andreas managed to recover a few places overall, retaining 15th in Silver. AM-class contender Fabien Boeri parked the #83 Team Speedcar Audi after a technical issue which scattered oil at Serraglio. The race remained under local yellow; positions for third overall had meanwhile changed, as the Borusan Otomotiv BMW of Berkay Besler passed Shaap’s Porsche and chased Herremans in second. Michael Schrey, though, was nine seconds up the road, unchallenged throughout his stint: the #2 BMW brought home a comfortable win, preceding the #17 V8 Racing Chevrolet and the #12 Borusan Otomotiv BMW. 16th overall and 14th in class until the final lap, Andreas Bäckman’s #19 ProDrive Aston Martin came to a halt on the final lap, unfortunately not crossing the finish line due to a technical issue. Nevertheless, the Monza weekend was a very valuable test for Jessica and Andreas, who certainly got to prove their speed in qualifying and collected race experience in the two races. "It was a learning weekend that started great but with a tougher ending", commented Jessica. "But there were many invaluable experiences that we will take with us to the start of the season in the German series at the end of May." "We know where we can improve and look forward to an exciting season. Many thanks to our team PROsport Racing for all the support during the weekend." Jessica now switches her focus on the ADAC GT4 Germany season, which is set to get underway on 26-28 May at Oschersleben, eager to apply the learnings from her GT4 Europe debut and aim for a strong GT4 debut season. "It was very fun to do the debut race together with Andreas", she continued. "We work very well together and push each other forward. Our strength is that we are both very equal, and with more routine and driving, I am convinced that our lineup this year will go far".