Tough weekend in TCR Europe for Michelle Halder & Jessica Bäckman
Updated: Oct 26
A lot of bad luck marked Michelle Halder and Jessica Bäckman's weekend at the penultimate TCR Europe round in Spa Francorchamps, as the series supported the famous 24 Hours race. With a DNF and a finish outside the Top-10, it was a weekend to forget for both the ladies.
As part of the 24 hours of Spa-Frachorchamps event, TCR Europe returned this weekend to on-track action in Belgium. To fit at the timetable of the famous endurance race, the first TCR heat was moved to Friday, followed by the second one on Saturday.
The first qualifying session took place on Friday and under tricky conditions, with Mehdi Bennani (ComToYou Racing) setting the fastest laps in both Q1 and Q2.
The session started on a slightly wet track surface, which began to dry as the lap times dropped. Behind Bennani, John Filippi (Target Competition) and Dan Lloyd (Brutal Fish Racing Team) were fastest in Q1. Jessica Bäckman closed the first quali session with a good 11th place while Michelle Halder would start from the 20th position.
"Spa-Francorchamps is a racing track that requires a lot of attack and considering that my car was one of the heaviest cars in the starting field, due to the penalty weight from the previous race, I knew it would be a tough weekend", said the young Swedish racer.
"The weather turned out to be unstable, which meant that I had a greater chance of a good result."
The second quali session went green on an almost fully dry track and Bennani secured pole position ahead of Tom Coronel (Boutsen Ginion Racing) - driving a Honda Civic in his second season appearance in the continental TCR series - and Filippi.
Race 1 started with a tyre thriller: slicks or wets? As the track was still damp, there surely were dry sections and this situation resulted in an exciting race, with some contenders gambling with a set of mixed tyres. Bennani held the lead from pole, while Filippi and Coronel battled for the second position. The experienced Dutchman ultimately settled in P2.
Both Jessica Bäckman and Michelle Halder had great starts off the line but, during the first lap, Nicolas Baert (ComToYou Racing) made heavy contact with Jessica Bäckman's Hyundai while regaining the racing line between T5 and T6. The Belgian racer cutted across the track and turned into the path of the unlucky Swede as if she was not there; both went straight into the wall and terminated their race.
"After a good start, I ended up in the wall after a few corners", commented a disappointed Jessica.
As result of the crash, the Safety Car was called out but, seconds before the boards were shown, Coronel snatched the lead from Bennani. At the restart, Coronel tried to pull away while Bennani dropped back dramatically.
On lap 5, Briché and Lloyd made contact: while Lloyd was able to recover to 7th position, Briché dropped back. At the same time, the gap in front narrowed and Azcona, who had passed Mike Halder and John Filippi, caught up with Coronel. Before the start of the final lap, Azcona passed Coronel for the lead in spectacular fashion, sending his car sliding around the outside at Blanchimont and leaving Coronel behind.
For the last podium step, it was a fight between Halder and Filippi - with the German Profi Car Team Halder driver coming out on top.
Michelle Halder had a very good first half of the race, as she managed to move up to 14th place before starting to struggle a bit more towards the end. Nonetheless, she moved up some positions from her starting place and and finished the first race in Spa Francorchamps in P16, just outside the point-paying positions.
Race 2 started with Mat´o Homola (BRC Racing Team) from reverse-grid pole, ahead of Pepe Oriola (Brutal Fish Racing Team) and Mike Halder. Jessica and Michelle took the green lights again from P12 and P20.
It was another race marked by tricky weather conditions and Azcona played the same card again as he started with slicks on the front and wets at the rear. During the warm up lap, though, it began to rain and Oriola was fastest at the start as he took over the lead from Homola. Martin Ryba was hit and crashed, while moments later Andreas Bäckman spun at Radillon following a contact with Dániel Nagy.
It was a busy race throughout, led by Oriola ahead of Mike Halder and Homola - the latter defending his thrid place from Sami Taoufik, Daniel Lloyd and José Manuel Sapag.
As Taoufik tried to plass Homola, he touched the barriers at the chicane and dropped to the back of the field. Lloyd and Sapag also made contact, while Michelle Halder spun after Blanchimont and stranded her Honda Civic Type R TCR in the grass. As a result, the Safety Car was called out.
"After the first corner I got a hit on the right side where I tried to drive further. After 2 laps my suspension from the front axle broke. Still lucky that it happens in this corner", said Michelle after the race.
Jessica Bäckman found herself the tail-end of the field after an unlucky tyre decision after the warm up lap: "It started to rain on the way to the grid, so we made the decision to put full wets on, which turned out to be the wrong decision since it dried up very quickly", she explained. "But that’s part of motorsport."
Jessica finished the race in P14 and scored 3 points.
As the race restarted, Azcona took over the lead and pulled away while Oriola and Mike Halder were losing positions. There were many cars involved in battles and on lap 8, Briché and Jimmy Clairet crashed and retired. Azcona claimed his second victory this weekend ahead of Tom Coronel, who was able to pass Filippi after several contacts.
Bennani received a 30 seconds penalty after the race for overtaking during the Safety Car intervention. That meant that Mike Halder extended his lead in the championship standings - now 26 points ahead of Bennani in his rookie season in the TCR Europe.
Overall, it was again a very entertaining weekend for TCR Europe, with two eventful and action-packed races and brilliant driving. Unfortunately, the ladies of the European TCR championship could not capitalize in terms of results after showing great potential in the previous rounds.
"The weekend simply did not turn out as I had hoped, but now I am recharging and looking forward to the last round of TCR Europe" - said Jessica.
The next and final round will take place on 6th to 7th November at Jarama Circuit, Spain.