In Monza second race, the two ladies of TCR Europe both added more points to their championship tally: Michelle Halder had another solid result as she made up some positions to finish P11, while Jessica Bäckman dropped back after a good start and was P14.
With Sunday’s race, the third round of the 2020 TCR Europe series went in the books: at the world-famous Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, we witnessed to two highly spectacular touring car races, with plenty of action throughout the field and exciting battles for the lead.
Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder, the two ladies competing in the top European-based TCR championship, had a very positive first race at the Italian venue, as they both claimed top ten finishes from P13 and P14 respectively. Crossing the finish line in eighth and ninth, they were both promoted to seventh (Jessica) and eighth (Michelle) after a post-race penalty for Comtoyou’s driver Sami Taoufik.
Both drivers were unhappy about their qualifying performances, which remains of vital importance in such competitive and crowded grids. Furthermore, TCR Europe’s format features a grid inversion of the top-10 classified drivers from Q2 for the second race, which could have potentially provided Bäckman and Halder with podium opportunities.
Nevertheless, they both advanced with strong performances in Race 1 and were hopeful to repeat their progression on Sunday.
John Filippi - Jessica’s only teammate on track after her brother Andreas decided to sit out both the races as he recovers from a wrist injury - lined up on reverse grid pole, alongside Michelle’s brother Mike Halder.
After crashing at La Roggia chicane on Saturday, Mike’s team ProfiCar Team Halder had to put in extra-work to fix the #7 Honda Civic Type R, but the driver now sitting third in the championship standings could ultimately take the start of the second race from the first row.
Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder again shared the seventh row - the young Swede preceding the German colleague.
When the lights went off, Mike Halder fired into the lead at Turn 1, leading Filippi and Oriola. The Frenchman attacked back at Serraglio, but Halder defended perfectly at Ascari, forcing the Hyundai i30 N TCR slightly wide and gifting an opportunity to Oriola, who quickly moved up to second.
A few hundreds metres later, Oriola went alongside Halder and, after a late braking at Parabolica, he advanced into the lead - completing the third change at the top of the classify in one lap.
Both Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder had great starts off the line, but then were stuck in the mid-field fights for the first half of the race.
Nicolas Baert also made it past Mike Halder at the first chicane, as the German driver started to fall back dramatically with front splitter issues. Soon after, Mike found himself 10th, before heading back into the pits and retiring.
More action was ongoing at the middle of the pack, with Jessica Bäckman being overtaken by Michelle Halder and Sami Taoufik when she went deep into Prima Variante and lost momentum.
Meanwhile, Julien Briché made it past Mat’o Homola for third place under braking at Parabolica.
There was more drama when championship leader Daniel Lloyd slowed down and retired after he had made contact with Mehdi Bennani.
After four laps of intense racing, Pepe Oriola led Baert, Briché, Homola and Bennani.
Michelle Halder was again flawless in avoiding troubles and made her way up to 12th, with Jessica Bäckman following in P14.
After a very difficult opening laps, John Filippi overtook Jimmy Clairet for sixth place, just as the ongoing battle for third brought Homola and Baert to outbrake themselves into Turn 1. This allowed Oriola and yesterday’s winner Julien Briché to pull away from the rest of the pack. Around the half-way mark, the latter started to put intense pressure on the race leader, who had his mirrors full of the #24 Peugeot 308 TCR.
In the other Clairet Sport Peugeot, Gilles Colombani had a couple of trips into the gravel and ultimately retired.
Now enjoying a 3.5 seconds advantage from the pursuers, the leading duo resumed their battle on lap 7, when Briché made another attempt at the second chicane, but Oriola left no gaps.
Michelle Halder and Jessica Bäckman battled closely with the Audi of Sami Taoufik, when also Daniel Nagy joined the fight and moved past Bäckman on lap 8. Meanwhile, Homola had made it into third place in an incredibly tight group of fighting cars all the way down to seventh place.
John Filippi had more scraps with Felice Jelmini - the Italian having another impressive race after his debut in the continental TCR series yesterday.
Baert and Jimmy Clairet swapped places for third while, ahead, the action for the leadership heated up again. In a stunning final lap, Julien Briché gave it his all and made countless moves but was ultimately denied a back to back victory by Pepe Oriola, who brought home his first win of the season by 0.152 seconds across the line.
Homola came out on top of the group fighting for third and clinched a podium position, ahead of Jimmy Clairet, Nicolas Baert and Teddy Clairet.
Jelmini was seventh after his fourth place in race 1 and preceded Filippi, Bennani and Ryba.
Just outside the top ten was Michelle Halder, in yet another very solid race:
“I had a good start but at the first corner I found a crash in front of me and I lost some positions.”, explained Michelle. “It was bad, but after that I had a good performance and I gained some places.”
“I finished the race in eleventh, so nearly the top ten. It’s quite good and I hope that in the next race we can do a little bit better and make it into the Q2 of course. But overall, I think it’s important points for us. I’m really sorry for my brother, but that’s racing”.
On the other hand, Jessica Bäckman (P14) was more disappointed by her result:
“I had quite a good start this time and I’m happy about that. After that, I locked up into the first corner and I lost many positions”, she summed up.
While it was certainly not the race she wanted, Bäckman was again into the points and will certainly look forward to bounce back in two weeks time in Barcelona, after she proved to belong to the higher-end of the classify in the first weekends of this year’s TCR Europe championship.