TCR Spain: Michelle Halder wins in inaugural round, Cano scores podium
The female talents of the brand-new TCR Spain left their mark on the inaugural weekend: Michelle Halder claimed her first win of the season and a second place, while Alba Cano brought home a podium and a fastest lap. Debut in CET class for Lydia Sempere.
The newly-formed TCR Spain held its first ever event at the latest RFEDA Racing Weekend, as the Circuit of Navarra hosted the three 20-minute races that kicked off the top touring car championship - this year sharing the grid with the CET series.
Two women announced a full season entry the TCR series - Michelle Halder and Alba Cano - and are joined but another impressive lady in the CET class - Lydia Sempere.
The German driver switched to the new Spanish TCR after remarkable campaigns in the ADAC TCR Germany and in the continental TCR Europe, racing alongside her brother Mike in a family-run team.
Spanish racer Alba Cano also made her debut in Navarra at the wheel of a Cupra Leon Competition by Monlau Repsol - a technical school aimed at the motorsport professions.
Cano is herself an experienced and accomplished touring car driver and has been racing in some of the most competitive national and international series. She was crowned TCE class champion in the 24H Series in 2018, and secured victory at the 24H of Barcelona one year later.
Sempere, a 23 year old driver from Alicante, is just as worthy of praise. Born with bilateral deafness, Lydia's passion for motor racing wasn't certainly halted by her difficulties: with help from some professional drivers such as Marc Gené, Sempere managed to adapt her helmet to fit her cochlear implant. She had to learn how to respond to the engine sounds, but with determination she is now continuing to fight adversities and making her step up to touring cars after a successful career in karting.
In the first qualifyng session on Saturday, SMC Motorsport's Alejandro Cutillas clinched pole position, followed by Mike Halder for Halder Motorsport. With a very convincing pace, Alba Cano was third fastest and Michelle Halder completed the second row fo the grid.
Both the Halders siblings had a superb start to Race 1: Mike took the lead and overtook Cutillas, while Michelle moved into third.
During the first 20 minute race, Alba Cano had a very exciting battle with Fernando Navarrete; it was the Spanish lady to come up on top of the duel, before she could open a two-second gap that put her on the podium. She was also able to set the fastest lap of the race.
After his strong start, Mike Halder led the race to the chequered flag - always followed closely by Alejandro Cutillas. He was nevertheless able to score victory in the first everround of TCR Spain.
Michelle Halder fininshed Race 1 in fifth place - but would later be the main protagonist of Sunday's action.
Starting from reverse grid pole, Michelle had another perfect getaway and, at the wheel of the #58 Honda Civic Type R FK7 TCR, she remained unreachable for the rest of the competion. Started from fourth, race 1 winner Mike Halder moved ahead of both Alba Cano and Fernando Navarrete in the opening stages, but he was never able to close in on her sister and challenge her for victory.
After 2 laps around the Navarra circuit, Michelle made history once again and became the first female winner in the series - having already achieved such record in the German championship and in the European TCR championship.
Halfway-through the race, when battling with Fernando Navarrete, Alba Cano made contact with the lapped CET car of Sempere and was forced to retire. Until the accident, the driver from Malaga had another very positive race.
The Monlau Repsol team was forced to some extra work to rebuild the #15 Cupra, only three hours before the last race of the weekend. Ultimately, Alba was able to take the start from the pit lane.
Unfortunately, the Spaniard would later receive a drive through that denied her the chances of another podium finish. Despite these challenging circumstances, Cano was still able to complete Race 3 in fifth position.
"In general we're very satisfied for our debut in this new championship and to work with a Cupra in the TCR category"- said Monlau Repsol director David Simón.
"Alba Cano do a great job during a difficult weekend, she proved to have rhythm and potential to fight for victories in the future races" the Team Principal added.
The third race was again a family matter for the Halders: Mike conquered the lead from polesitter Alejandro Cutillas and pulled away to take his second win of the weekend. Meanwhile, Michelle started from fourth and recovered up until second place - thus completing a 1-2 for the German family-run team.
"The first race weekend in TCR Spain was a really great start to the new season for me." - said Michelle. "To start with a win and make history again is always good and on a track I haven't been to before. Also with a fifth and second place, the weekend was really top for me."
"The series is new and of course I am proud to be a part of the first year. There are great race tracks and the people are very nice. I am looking forward to the rest of the season."
Cutillas and Navarette fough for the final podium place, which ultimately went to the #19 SMC Motorsport's Peugeot of Navarrete, who had the better hand on his teammate.
With a P8, P9 and a sixth place in class - and an eleventh place overall in Race 1 - Lydia Sempere completed her first round in the TCR/CET series, building important experience that will allow the young driver of the Fundacion Renault Megane RS to further climb the order at the next rounds.
TCR Spain will now head to Jarama, on 3-4 July, for its second race meeting.
"We have been to Jarama last year." - added Halder, who already visited the track last year for the season finale of TCR Europe. "Of course, it is again easier for us here than if we had never been there before. We know the track and of course want to build on the success of Navarra."