TCR Spain: Two more female podiums in Aragon
The third round of the brand-new TCR Spain was once again a positive one for the women of the championship: Alba Cano was second in Race 1 and Michelle Halder took home a third place in Race 3.
TCR Spain might have only contested three race weekends since its inception, but has already delivered 2 wins and six podiums for female drivers. Young German racer Michelle Halder (Halder Motorsport), after taking victories in TCR Germany and TCR Europe, was in fact able to repeat the historic performance at the series inaugural event at Navarra, while Monlau Competicion's Alba Cano – another experienced touring car driver with multiple wins and national titles under her belt – secured her first win in TCR Spain at Jarama. The third round of the season, contested on the MotoGP layout of the Motorland Aragon racetrack, saw a strong start by Michelle Halder, who was second fastest in both the free practice sessions – and led most of FP2 – while Cano followed in fourth. The pole position was then clinched by a series newcomer - Venezuelan Sergio Lopez, at the wheel of the #101 Cupra Leon Competicion by RC2 Junior Team. he was the only driver able to record a lap under the 2 minute mark, and preceded Mike Halder (Halder Motorsport) by almost 7 tenths of a second. The championship leader had previously missed FP2 due to an engine failure, but was back on track in time for qualifying. Michelle Halder was third fastest, only 5 thousandths of a second behind her brother. Alba Cano lined up in fifth place, alongside Fernando Navarrete on the third row – which will result in a front row start for the second race. Race 1 The first race of the weekend – the only one contested on Saturday – was initially delayed due to heavy rainfall. When the lights did eventually go out, Lopez had a good getaway but a small mistake gave the opportunity to Mike Halder to fire into the lead, followed by Ferdinando Navarrete and Michelle Halder. Michelle, though, was overtaken on the second lap by Cutillas and Cano, as Lopez had dropped behind the whole TCR field. In the latter stages, Cutillas closed in on his teammate Navarrate and managed to move up into second place – followed shortly after by Alba Cano, who brought herself up to third. After 10 laps around the 5.078 km long circuit, Mike Halder took another dominant victory, ahead of Cutillas and Cano – but the second-placed driver would later receive a penalty that would drop him one place, leaving the runner up spot to the talented Alba Cano. Michelle Halder was fifth across the line, three seconds ahead of the former pole-sitter Lopez. "With two second places in free practice and a P3 in qualifying, I came into today's race with great ambitions and goals." – wrote Michelle on Saturday evening. "Unfortunately my race didn’t quite pan out in the way I hoped. But I keep pushing for the race tomorrow."
Race 2 A front row start from second place wasn't unfortunately converted into another podium for Alba Cano, who started on the dirty side of the track and had way too much wheelspin at the start of Race 2 on Sunday morning and dropped all the way down to fifth. Navarrete led the field, ahead of teammate Cutillas, Mike Halder and Michelle Halder – who had a good start off and was provisionally up to third but gave up a position during the opening lap. A contact among the CET field left Ivan Velasco stranded at Turn 3, but no Safety Car was deployed and the battle for the TCR victory between with the leading trio: it would be a lock-up by Navarrete to hand Cutillas the lead of the race, but Mike Halder continued to chase the SMC Motorsport's Peugeot 308 TCR cars ahead. The German driver found a way around Navarrete on lap 3, then chased Cutillas. Meanwhile, rookie Sergio Lopez had moved ahead of Alba Cano on lap 2 and managed to advance to fourth place on lap 5 as he passed Michelle Halder. Mike Halder closed in on Cutillas and, after a stunning battle on lap 7, he completed a great move to win the second race of the weekend. Cutillas remained at a close distance, but had no chances to respond back and had to settle for second. Michelle Halder was fifth across the line, ahead of Alba Cano. Having finished on the podium in the wet race the day before, Cano was not happy with the car and worked together with her team to find a solution in time for race 3. Race 3 Sergio Lopez lined up in pole position alongside Alejandro Cutillas, while the Halder siblings locked out the second row. The pole-sitter had too much wheelspin and had to defend the inside from the blistering start of Mike Halder: the championship leader found a gap between Lopez and Cutillas' cars and moved into the lead on the run towards Turn 1, as Michelle Halder jumped ahead of Navarrete. There was more drama for Alejandro Cutillas when on the second lap he was forced to pit with a smoking engine and retired with overheating issues. Alone in the lead, Mike Halder pulled away and gained over a second per lap in the opening stages. But the real battle was for the final step of the podium, with Ferdinando Navarrete initially getting back ahead of Michelle Halder, before a big slide at the final corner on lap 5 gave the perfect chance to both Michelle and Alba Cano to overtake the SMC Motorsport driver. Mike Halder completed a perfect weekend with three dominant race victories, and extended his championship lead; Sergio Lopez was second and Michelle Halder took her third podium in the series with a valuable third place, ahead of Alba Cano and Ferdinando Navarrete. "This weekend in Aragon ends up with a great third place", commented Michelle. "I could finish the first two races on P5 and the third race on P5 - Thanks a lot to the whole team, who did a fantastic job this weekend." With help from the Monlau Competicion mechanics, Cano was a lot happier with her car in the final race and the Malagan leaves Aragon with positive feelings. The third woman on the grid, the inspiring Lydia Sempere (CET category), claimed two P6 and a P4 finishes in class, with a 10th place overall in race 2. The young Spaniard is driving with a special system to help her overcome the challenges of driving with bilateral deafness and, at her first season in the series, she continues to collect experience. The next round of the 2021 calendar is scheduled for 18-19 September at Circuito Ricard Tormo, Valencia.