TCR Europe: Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder marginally miss out on Q2 in Monza Qualifying
It was a frustrating qualifying for the ladies of TCR Europe, as Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder marginally missed out on Q2 and will start P13 and P14 in the first race of the Monza weekend.
In un sunnier - yet definitely not warm - Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, the 23-car field of TCR Europe battled for pole position for the third round of the season.
The two ladies of the continental TCR series, 23-year old Jessica Bäckman (Target Competition) and 21-year old Michelle Halder (ProfiCar Team Halder) had a promising Friday when they both made appearances in the top-6 in free practice.
Bäckman was fifth in the only practice session contested in dry weather conditions and said that she was very happy with her improvements on new set of tyres. Jessica comes from a challenging weekend at Zolder, Belgium, when she retired in the first race but was then able to recover to P10 in the second race.
On the other hand, Michelle Halder made a last minute switch from ADAC TCR Germany to the European-based series to find herself constantly fighting for top-10 positions and, notably, she made history by claiming the first victory for a female driver in the championship in Zolder's second race.
Michelle was sixth in the rain-affected first practice in Monza on Friday morning and finished P14 in FP2 on used tyres. She was also confident about her pace and chances to make it into Q2, which would have provided her with the best chances in Sunday's reverse grid race.
Unfortunately, it was a difficult qualifying session for both the racing ladies: when the time ran out, they were P13 and P14 respectively, marginally missing out on the top-12 that would have granted them access to Q2. In a very close session, Jessica could not improve on her last set of tyres and, after finding some traffic in her final attempt, she finished 13th after the opening 20 minutes. She was 66 thousandths of a second ahead of Michelle, who was also disappointed by her Q1 performance.
"It's a high speed track and a lot depends on slipstream" - she said, adding that she also had a lot of oversteer coming out of the corners.
But with such busy grids, the young German is hopeful that she can make up some positions and target a top-10. "The most important thing is to always aim for points, if we get a top-10 that's even better", she commented, despite being a bit worried for the engine temperatures, after the family-run team reported an issue on Friday.
Q2 was led by Comtoyou driver Mehdi Bennani, who put his Audi RS3 LMS on top of the timesheets by 0.035 over championship leader Daniel Lloyd. Jimmy Clairet and Julien Briché confirmed the great speed of the Peugeot 308 TCR cars on a fast circuit like Monza. Pepe Oriola was fifth, and preceded Mat'o Homola, Teddy Clairet, Nicolas Baert, Mike Halder and John Filippi. The latter will thus start from reverse grid pole in tomorrow's race.
Home driver and TCR Italy front-runner Felice Jelmini was P12 in his debut in an international series, while Jessica's brother Andreas has been facing a really tough weekend and will start from the back of the grid in P23.
The first race of the Italian round will go green at 17:15 CEST, with Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder sharing the seventh row of the grid.
You can follow Jessica and Michelle's first race in Monza here.