An unfortunate weekend ended Michelle Halder's season in TCR Europe, with a top-ten clearly in sight – before a contact and a technical issue denied more points to the young German.
The final round of the 2022 TCR Europe season - held last weekend at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, was the perfect representation of Michelle Halder's unfortunate season: promising pace and top ten potential, blended with contacts from other drivers and a few technical issues.
Halder, who was third last year in the final standings of the inaugural TCR Spain championship, made her return to the continental TCR series - as the first woman to win races in three different TCR sanctioned series: in her touring car career, Michelle has in fact amassed race victories in TCR Germany, TCR Europe and TCR Spain.
Her return to arguably the most competitive TCR series had all the potential to be one of the most successful for the once small family-run team, now an established and growing organization in the world of TCR competitions: for the first time, Halder Motorsport lined up a third car - for young British talent Jack Young, alongside siblings Michelle and Mike Halder. Unfortunately, a series of adversities hampered Michelle's season.
A fourth place in Monza qualifying proved her skills, but again two difficult races left her with no points. Ahead of the season finale in Barcelona, Halder had the chance to enter the final round of the Danish TCR season - a championship that has significantly developed over the past couple of years.
At Jyllandsringen, Halder's weekend followed the same trend: a contact in the first race and a drive shaft failure in race 3.
Committed to ending her 2022 season on a high, Michelle was the protagonist of another remarkable qualifying in Barcelona, where the driver of the #53 Halder Motorsport Honda Civic Type R qualified once again for Q2, for the second time this year.
After a fog delay, conditions improved and Michelle was P12 in Q2, thus qualifying for the second 10-minute session - where she set the 11th fastest time. She would start from the sixth row of the grid in Race 1.
Thanks to the points assigned in qualifying, Franco Girolami was crowned champion at the end of the session. Jack Young scored pole position, ahead of Coronel and Isidro Callejas. Young had a good start and retained the top spot; Michelle had a cautious start into the first corner but then could avoid Leonov at Turn 10, when the Volcano Motorsport driver misjudged his braking point and was deep into the gravel, luckily avoiding contact with the cars ahead. Halder defended well from Marco Butti and the recovering Josh Files - who had started from the back of the pack after an engine change. Unfortunately, Michelle's race went downhill when she was hit and spun around by Fernandez on lap 3. The Spaniard later retired one lap later. Ahead, Coronel was glued to the back of Young's car - but the Briton held on. His teammate Mike Halder, also, was trying to find a way past Gavrilov while defending from Files at the same time, in a 3-car battle that offered plenty of action in the midfield. Josh Files would gain both positions on lap 7, with Mike Halder also passing Gavrilov for P10. Michelle Halder had not given up and started her comeback; she passed Sladecka and Leonov, then chased down Lopez - who she would pass one lap later. Next up was Ghermandi, whom she would quickly catch up with, showing great race pace. Young survived Tom Coronel's pressure throughout the race and scored a race victory in race 1, with the Dutchman and freshly-crowned champion Girolami completing the podium. WTCR's regular Frederic Vervisch was fourth, ahead of home hero Isidro Callejas. Michelle Halder completed race 1 in P16 after a last lap collision between Fernandez and Ghermandi; her recovery showed a really strong race pace, but the contact on lap 3 ultimately cost her the opportunity for points.
In the reverse grid race, John Filippi led Pepe Oriola, Jáchym Galáš, Nicola Baldan and Frederic Vervisch on the starting grid. Filippi led the pack at lights out, while Comtoyou teammates Vervisch and Girolami were quickly up to third and fourth place after brilliant launches. Franco Girolami would take the lead before the end of the first lap, in a 3-car battle on the main straight.
From 11th on the grid, Michelle Halder saved the car from another potential spin when she was again hit on lap 1, holding P11.
In the very chaotic first laps, former pole-sitter Filippi collided with Jack Young and went off at Turn 8 - before Galáš and Gavrilov also made contact. The Safety Car was eventually deployed to recover the stranded Sebastien Loeb Racing Cupra.
At the restart, Oriola passed Coronel for third, as the Dutchman focused his efforts on the battle for the runner-up spot in the championship, with Files just behind him.
Young overtook Michelle Halder on lap 6, but she fought back and regained eleventh place by passing Leonov, in a series of elbows-out moves for the 23-year-old German that held her own in the midfield.
A second neutralization halted the action when Pepe Oriola slowed down and retired from third place - promoting Tom Coronel to a podium spot behind his Comtoyou teammates Girolami and Vervisch. At the restart, Girolami immediately took a big gap and Coronel moved into second place – aided by the small resistance of his teammate Vervisch.
Files also needed to get ahead of the Belgian, but made a mistake in Turn 4 Mike Halder made an opportunistic move stick for fourth.
Michelle Halder had a great restart and moved into tenth place – in what would be her best result of the season. Awful luck, though, hit Michelle again: soon after, the #53 Halder Motorsport Honda Civic slowed down and came to a halt with 4 laps to go. It was Michelle's third DNF of the season.
Josh Files dived on the inside of Turn 10 and collided with Gavrilov at the following corner as they ran side by side, ending his race into the tyre barriers.
On the final lap, Girolami retained a safe margin to cross the finish line in first place, ahead of Coronel and Vervisch in a Comtoyou 1-2-3.
A really strong final race of the year unfortunately ended prematurely for Michelle Halder, with a top-ten clearly within reach. She finished the season with 19 points and a best finish of P13 at the Norisring.
"In 10th place, I unfortunately had to park my car with a technical defect." – she commented. "But we had great races and exciting battles."
"This is not how we imagined the end of our season", Michelle continued. "Nevertheless, it was an instructive season with great moments for us."
While her plans for next year have not been revealed yet, all Michelle Halder needs to get back into the front-running position is better luck.