TCR Spain: Michelle Halder takes victory ahead of Alba Cano
Female power in TCR Spain: Michelle Halder returns to victory in Valencia, as Alba Cano finishes second in Race 3 in a historic 1-2.
The Valencia round at Ricardo Tormo – penultimate race meeting of the 2021 TCR Spain championship – turned out to be an historic 1-2 for the women of the series: after claiming a podium on Saturday, Michelle Halder returned to the top step of the podium in Race 3, ahead of Monlau Competicion's Alba Cano. Coming off an impressive 2021 campaign so far, the ladies TCR Spain – German TCR star Michelle Halder and experienced touring car racer Alba Cano, with the addition of rookie Lydia Sempere in the CET category – were back on track last weekend for the fourth round of the Spanish Racing Weekend at the Valencian venue of Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The Monlau Repsol driver Alba Cano, one of the revelations of the season, started the weekend as the fastest driver in FP1 and confirmed her front-runner status with an encouraging fifth place in qualifying. Two positions ahead, Michelle Halder (Halder Motorsport) clinched the second row of the grid for Race 1. Michelle, a race winner in TCR Germany and TCR Europe, has moved with her family-run team to Spain for the inaugural season of the series, where she won at the season opener. Her brother Mike, current championship leader, was again on top form in qualifying and, after a perfect start, he was unreachable by his rivals, leading the first race from lights to flag. Despite the commanding victory, there were hard battles for the following podium positions, with Michelle Halder among the protagonists; Michelle moved into second place at the start as she moved ahead of Navarrete with a better getaway. The duo fought for position in the opening lap and Navarrete responded back to re-claim his starting place – with Cutillas also trying to join the battle for second. Alba Cano was forced to a recovering run when on the first lap she made contact with Lopez, and the two drivers rejoined the race from the middle of the CET field. Despite losing significant time from the top positions, Lopez and Cano battled for the final fifth place – ultimately clinched by the Spanish lady who made the successful move on lap 5 and then defended the position until the chequered flag. In the closing stages of Race 1, all the eyes were on Michelle Halder, Cutillas and Navarette: the German lady eventually had the best of the two Spaniards and took the chequered flag in second place, but dropped to third due to a 2-second time penalty for track limits. Cutillas thus inherited second, as also Navarrete was demoted down the podium for a 7 second penalty. After an impressive Race 1 victory, Mike Halder was also the protagonist on Sunday, with a strong Race 2 from sixth place on the grid. Halder took the lead from polesitter Cutillas in the opening stages and was looking strong for another victory. Having lined up in third, Michelle Halder had a better reaction at the start and moved into the lead, but was successively passed by the SMC Motorsport's Peugeot of Cutillas and found herself in a close battle for third with Navarrete, Cano and Lopez in the following laps. After losing the third spot from Navarrete, Michelle and Alba Cano engaged in a duel and swapped positions several times throughout the race. As Lopez had to serve two drive-through penalties, the battle between the two ladies effectively became valid for fourth place: it would be Cano to come out on top across the finish line, but she was later dropped to fifth due to track limits, allowing Michelle Halder to finish one step away from the podium. Mike Halder was almost set to claim his second victory of the weekend – but Alejandro Cutillas had other plans: he closed in on the race leader and launched an attack on the final corner of the final lap, overtaking the championship leader to secure a win in Race 2.
A flat front tyre from the German would be revealed as the cause, as Mike Halder quickly lost the gap to his rival in the final laps. A solid run by Fernando Navarrete brought him on the podium in third place.
But the main story of the weekend awaited in Race 3.
Starting from pole, Michelle Halder battled with Fernando Navarrete into turn 1; she defended the position and also survived a contact. Mike Halder took advantage from the skirmishes to move up to second, placing his Honda Civic Type R TCR right behind his sister - who managed to increase her lead from the rest of the field in the following laps.
After a close duel against the competitive Navarrete, Mike Halder was also losing ground: Navarrete then had to defend third place from the return of both Alejandro Cutillas and Alba Cano – but he had to pit for a technical issue. Cano and Cutillas went on to battle for the podium, sparing no contacts.
On lap 9, the young woman from Malaga made the move stick – but her charge up the field was not over yet. In fact, with 2 laps to go, Mike Halder was also unexpectedly forced to pit with a technical issue which dropped him to fifth and allowed the Repsol Monlau driver to advance to P2.
The eventful round marked an historical 1-2 for the women of the series: Michelle Halder scored her second victory of the season after a flawless performance, followed by the always impressive Alba Cano.
Lydia Sempere added more valuable laps to her growing experience in touring cars, as she continued a positive debut season in the CET category. The young Spaniard – who is driving with a special helmet system helping her overcome the challenges of driving with bilateral deafness – was sixth in class in the final race of the weekend.
"After a brilliant start I could win the third race in Valencia." – wrote Michelle Halder.
"It was a great race weekend that came to a perfect end with this victory today".
In what has been an exciting inaugural season so far, TCR Spain will now tackle the season finale 13/14 November in Barcelona.
Michelle Halder, though, will hit the track again this weekend, for the upcoming NLS round at Nurburgring.