The world of motorsport is made up of a plethora of different racing series, with different cars and different racetracks. However, for many people, their career starts the same way: in karting. From here the sport can take drivers in many directions, whether that be into single seater formula cars, rally cars, touring cars, or any of the other possibilities. After beginning her racing career in karting, Jessica Bäckman went on to race in rallycross before finding her driving style was better suited to touring cars. I spoke to her about her career, family passion and why she continues to kart alongside her other racing.
Throughout her childhood, motorsport was a passion for not only Jessica, but also her family with them both watching the sport on TV and attending races. “I have been watching Formula 1 on TV since I was a child. I have also been watching my uncle competing in rallycross and rally since I was only a few years old, so my whole family is very interested. I also went to two Formula One races when I was young in Hockenheim and Barcelona, but I never knew at that point that I would race on these tracks in the future, which I am now,” she explained. It was at the age of seven, that Bäckman herself began to get involved in motorsport when she first started karting. “I remember that at first I didn’t want to but when I saw my brother drive, I thought it looked fun. I tried it and fell in love straight away,” Jessica said.
Following her first experience of karting, Bäckman made her competitive race debut. “I decided to sign up for my first karting race the same year which was in the North of Sweden Championship. I remember that I managed to win my first ever race by lapping my competitors and it was at that point I knew that motorsport was my future,” she told me. Jessica’s karting career has been incredibly successful with her finishing 1st in the District Championship and 2nd place in the North Swedish Cup in 2008. She then went onto win the Swedish Championship three times, win multiple Belgian Karting Championship events, before being crowned ‘Best Woman’ in the Karting World Championship in 2017. It was also in 2017, that Bäckman made the transition from karting to cars as she entered the world of rallycross. “I decided to try rallycross because it is very big where I live in the north of Sweden. I knew that the step to cars was going to be tough, in the beginning I even had to learn how to change gears, I had no experience of a rallycross car at all. I went straight into the world championship, which was a challenge, but I learned very quickly and enjoyed every minute of it. In rallycross a track has around 50% tarmac and 50% gravel. The most difficult part was to handle the gravel,” she described.
It was in the same year that Jessica won the Swedish Karting Championship for the third time. Part of her prize was a test in a racing car, and following this, she realised that her future may lie in a different series of car racing. “When I went to the test and got to try the racing car, I felt straight away that it fitted my driving style a lot better than rallycross and therefore decided to switch to racing cars (TCR) for 2018,” Bäckman said. It was in 2018 that she entered her first full championship outside of karting, racing in the TCR UK championship, with her first race being at Silverstone. “There were so many new things I had to learn at once, but it went better than what I could’ve expected, and I had lots of fun,” Jessica explained. Later in the season, Bäckman finished the event at Brands Hatch in 2nd place, and therefore became the first woman to finish on the podium in a TCR UK championship and only the second female worldwide to finish on a TCR podium.
With 2018 being her first year racing touring cars, and this season (2019) her first racing them in Europe, Jessica has relatively little experience, however this hasn’t held back her success with a number of podiums to her name. “Last year when I achieved my first podium in TCR UK, it was such a relief. I had it as a goal for that season, but I never thought I would make it. This year when I decided to take a big step into the European championship, TCR Europe, I knew that the competition would be so much harder. I said that this will be my learning year and I would be happy with top ten positions and then hopefully next year I could challenge at the front of the field. But now already with a podium in TCR Europe, it was such an amazing feeling, to exceed my expectations that much, and to be in the history books feels amazing too. As well as my podiums in TCR Scandinavia and TCR Germany, this year is so far over my expectations which just makes me stronger and makes me think how well it can go in the future with even more experience,” she told me. Whilst competing in these touring car series, Bäckman continues to kart. With this being the starting point and introduction to motorsport for most racing drivers, she is keen to continue developing her race-craft in this way. “I believe karting is the best school for all kinds of cars because you learn all the basic things you have to know. I especially think that driving a shifter car helps you a lot since its most like a real car, with for example front brakes on the kart and 6 gears. I believe that the more you drive, the better you get, even If I drive karts or other cars, you can still gain experience,” Jessica said.
Having achieved multiple titles and podiums, it is one of her first that remains a highlight from Bäckman’s career. “My first Swedish championship title in 2012 is what I am most proud of because it was the first one and the first one, in my opinion, is always the most special. Also, my latest Swedish championship title in 2017 was special because I managed to win by over two seconds, even though I had a one-year break from karting because my focus was on rallycross that year,” Jessica explained. Having raced in multiple karting and car series, it’s some of the championships she has competed in most recently that have been the most challenging. “In karting it was the World Championship and in racing, TCR Europe,” she said.
Jessica Bäckman’s career started in karting, and despite now racing in touring cars, continues to drive where it all began when she was seven years old. As a three-time Swedish Karting champion, it’s clear this has formed the basis for the success she is having now with impressive performances in the TCR UK and TCR Europe Championships, despite relatively little experience in these categories. At 22 years old, Jessica is keen to help inspire the next generation with her advice for those wanting to race being: “follow your heart, believe in yourself and remember to have fun. Sometimes I remind myself that I race because I enjoy it and I’m having fun. If you’re having a bad weekend, try to still point out the positives, which makes it easier to move on, there are always positives.”
Heading photo credit: TCR Europe