TCR Europe: mixed fortunes for Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder in Barcelona
Jessica Bäckman's outstanding performances in Barcelona's practice and qualifying couldn't be converted in podium finishes after two unfortunate crashes with no fault on her side, while Michelle Halder continued her stellar rookie campaign in TCR Europe with another top-10 in Sunday's Barcelona race.
The ladies of TCR Europe were back on track for the fifth race event of the 2020 European TCR campaign at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona - one of the two Spanish rounds in this year's schedule. The Circuit of Jarama, north of Madrid, will in fact host this year's season finale.
Swedish driver Jessica Bäckman had an impressive Friday, as she was third fastest in FP1 and second fastest in FP2. Both the sessions were led by Moroccan's Sami Taoufik, in the Audi RS 3 LMS TCR by Comtoyou Racing.
Jessica was again able to repeat her strong performance in Saturday's qualifying session, where she topped the timesheets in Q1 - like she previously did at Le Castellet - and was P9 in Q2, securing the first row in Sunday's race and a P9 on the grid for Race 1.
Polesitter Mat'o Homola had a difficult start to Race 1 and handed the leadership to Mike Halder, while home driver Pepe Oriola further dropped Homola to third at the end of the opening lap.
Jessica's race was soon turned around by a collision with Target Competion's teammate Josè Manuel Sapang on lap two, which forced both the drivers to rebuild their races from the back of the pack after their accident at La Caixa corner.
It was a really unfortunate development for the talented Swedish driver, who was set to finish again in the top-10 after a seventh place in Monza and had shown pace for a front-runner position throughout the whole weekend.
The other female racer of the 2020 TCR Europe season - Michelle Halder - also endured a challenging Saturday at Barcelona: after a strong start, the German was forced to retire with a suspension failure.
"After a great start I was able to fight my way up to 12th place in the first round." - commented Michelle. "With a great pace I was super there. The suspension to my damper broke after a blow on the rear axle, unfortunatey I had to come to the box." - added Michelle on her social media feeds.
In the following laps, Sami Toufik overtook compatriot Medhi Bennani for fourth and closed the gap for third to Homola, securing the podium spot on lap 7.
The Audi driver was protagonist of the final half of the race as he tried to catch up with second-placed Oriola on the final lap. Despite launching an attack into Turn 1, the Spaniard was able to defend and finished just behind Race 1 dominator Mike Halder, Michelle's brother.
Jessica Bäckman, thanks to her competitive qualifying, started from the first row in the second race - which brought very high hopes for a strong result for the 23-year old Swede. The Bäckmans locked up the front row, with Jessica's brother Andreas - making his racing return after an injury - lining up on reverse grid pole.
The two siblings both had great starts off the line and managed to keep the top spots, followed in third by other Target Competition driver John Filippi, while starting from seventh, Pepe Oriola moved up to fourth place in an impressive first lap.
Andreas Bäckman opened a comfortable gap at the halfway-point, while Jessica had to defend second place from Filippi's attacks. Just like in the first race, though, luck wasn't on the young lady's side.
Filippi dived on the inside of turn 11 and made contact, forcing Jessica into a spin in the grass with five laps to go. After a solid race in the runner up position, Jessica rejoined from the back of the field and was classified 18th in a race that could have ended in a Target Competition podium lock-out.
"It was very sad that the weekend would end like this, the whole team had the speed and potential to be first, second and third in race 2. Sad for the whole team that the collision would end like this." - commented Jessica.
"Actually, I had an almost perfect weekend until the races and the long-awaited double victory was close, but it's just a matter of recharging for the next race weekends" - she said.
As per Jessica's words, the "double victory" for the siblings was indeed close, as Andreas Bäckman went on to win Barcelona's Race 2 with a commading run, followed in second by Sami Toufik - who overtook Oriola on lap 9 and took advantage of a drive-through penalty inflicted to Filippi for the incident with Jessica.
Oriola experienced a difficult second half of race and started to drop several positions down the order due tyre degradation.
While Jessica Bäckman couldn't translate her race pace in race results, Michelle Halder's weekend finished on a high with a remarkable performance in Sunday's race.
The young German, who has already a victory to her name and made history as she became the first woman to win in the continental TCR championship, started from P16 but was then able to charge up the order in the always tight midfield, claiming a very positive seventh place across the finish line. Michelle completed a great move on Oriola in the final lap, as the Spanish Brutal Fish driver ultimately dropped down to P14.
Medhi Bennani completed the Race 2 podium, while Mike Halder, with his fourth place, gained the lead of championship standings with two events remaining on the calendar.
Michelle, thanks to her fourth top ten finish in her rookie TCR Europe season, advanced to tenth place in the points table.
Spa Francorchamps will host the next TCR Europe rounds on 23-24 October.