TCR Spain: second podium of the weekend gains Michelle Halder third in the championship
With a second podium in Barcelona, Michelle Halder clinched third in the championship standings. With two 7th places on Sunday, Alba Cano ends the season in fifth position.
The first ever edition of TCR Spain was a resounding success: entries kept growing throughout the season and races continued to be action-packed. After five weekends on the best Spanish racetracks, Mike Halder became the first series champion on Saturday, claiming second behind WTCR specialist and TCR Europe champion Mikel Azcona.
The two female drivers of the series were not on the grid to make up the numbers either: Michelle Halder – the first woman to win a race in three TCR championships after climbing on the top step of the podium in TCR Germany, TCR Europe and TCR Spain – consistently battled for podiums and victories, as well as Alba Cano.
The Spaniard – a touring car specialist that had previous success in endurance racing – switched to sprint races in 2021 but was quick to adapt to the race format and to the new team, bringing the Monlau Competicion Cupra to more race victories and podiums.
At the Barcelona season finale, both Cano and Michelle Halder were in contention for third place in the championship. With a third place in race 1 – secured after a stunning start from fifth and with great defensive driving – Michelle was in a good position on Sunday to assault third in the standings. On the other hand, Alba Cano started off her weekend on the right foot with a third place in practice, but troubled qualifying put her in eighth, eighth and seventh position for the three races – forcing her to recoveries during the races.
A slow start on Saturday further made things more difficult for Cano, who was nonetheless able to charge from tenth to sixth.
“For the final races I will try to overtake, because realistically our pace was between third and fifth." – she told us on Sunday morning. "Mikel [Azcona] and Mike [Halder] are really fast, but my goal would be between third and fifth position.”
“We have to finish ahead of Fernando [Navarrete] for the championship, that’s what matters most”.
Volcano Motorsport's Leonov started from pole position in race 2, alongside Michelle Halder. Race 1 winner Mikel Azcona lined up in sixth, just behind newly-crowned champion Mike Halder. When the lights went out, Michelle had a great getaway and moved into the lead – but she could do nothing against her brother Mike, who fired into the lead at Turn 1 from fifth place. Azcona also had a good launch and advanced to fourth, while Alba Cano had another difficult start and dropped to tenth place. In the CET class, inspiring Spanish racer Lydia Sempere could not unfortunately take the start after a technical issue on her way to the grid. The Safety Car was soon called into action after Lopez went off in the gravel on the first lap. The race resumed on lap 3 and there were more scraps between Moura and Navarrete, as the Portuguese ultimately gained sixth. In CET, Geppert took the early lead ahead of Bajo and Barrios. Azcona also started to navigate through the field and passed both Leonov and Michelle Halder on lap 4. Michelle lost momentum at Turn 1 and dropped behind all three Volcano Motorsport's cars, as Leonov and Callejas completed opportunistic moves. Mike Halder had opened a 2 second gap in the lead but Azcona, now in free air, quickly closed in. On lap 8, the Spanish touring car star took the lead at Turn 1 with another masterful pass. Alba Cano moved into seventh place and overtook Navarrete – in an important battle for the championship standings. The fight for the lead in the CET class was highly spectacular as well: Villacieros had a great comeback up to second, but was then passed by Velasco and Aparicio. Positions for the podium continued to change until the last laps, when Aparicio took the lead ahead of Villacieros and Barrios. Azcona took his second win of the weekend, 1.5 seconds ahead of Mike Halder. Isidro Callejas took third, while Michelle Halder was promoted to fourth place after a 7 second time penalty inflicted to Leonov for track limits.
Azcona was back on pole for Race 3, alongside main rival Mike Halder. Moura and Michelle Halder shared the second row of the grid, while Cano slotted in seventh.
Unfortunately, the technical issues on Lydia Sempere's Renault Megane RS CET continued and prevented the young driver from starting the final race of the season.
The blistering starts from the Halder siblings continued into the third race at Montmelo: Mike took the lead and Michelle followed in third place.
Unfortunately, Alba Cano had way too much wheelspin and dropped to tenth place – forcing her again to a charge.
Azcona, though, was aiming for a perfect weekend and got back ahead moments later, igniting a fierce wheel-to-wheel battle: Mike Halder fought back at La Caixa corner, before Azcona could reclaim the top spot at Turn 1 one lap later.
Michelle defended third place from Navarrete, but things got more heated when Moura passed the SMC Motorsport driver and started to put pressure on Michelle. On the third lap, she eventually dropped to fifth, behind both Moura and Navarrete – and had to watch her mirrors from the return of Leonov.
But young Michelle Halder didn't settle and prepared the final assault: she managed to complete a stunning move on Navarrete at Turn 1 and 2, and defended into Turn 3. She would pull away and start to close the gap on third-placed Moura.
Alba Cano was also trying to recover and passed Cutillas for eighth on lap 4. The retirement of Lopez would gain her another position, as she hunted down Leonov in the final stages.
With a last-lap pass, Cano moved to sixth – but lost out to Cutillas to finish seventh. She ends the season in fifth place in the points' standings.
When Mike Halder was looking safe in second place, he slowed down and lost two places – allowing Moura and Michelle Halder past.
Azcona took a third dominant victory, over 16 seconds ahead of Gustavo Moura. With her second podium of the weekend, Michelle Halder was able to snatch third in the championship standings.
“I’m really happy with the results here in Barcelona, I really like this track." – said Michelle after another successful weekend. "I come home with two podiums and a P4, and of course third in the championship is really amazing.”
“I’m really happy with this season – I had a few races with zero points when I wasn’t able to drive [for technical issues] and now to finish the season in third is really amazing.” – she added.
“Pace this weekend was really good, I’m really happy that we managed third place with myself and first place for Mike as TCR Spain champion, as well as the team’s championship. It’s really good for the team and I hope that more trophies are coming next year!”
While at the moment there is no fixed plan for 2022, Michelle and her team are working on the program and hopefully we will know more during winter break.