Another top-10 in class for Taylor Hagler in GT4 Europe
At only her second participation in GT4 European Championship, Taylor Hagler is making significant progress and clearly closing in on her first top five in the ProAm class.
Multiple-touring car champion Taylor Hagler keeps forging her way in European sports car racing with another solid weekend in the uber-competitive GT4 European Championship, arguably one of the world's top fields in GT racing. Hagler has contested a full season in SRO America, claiming the runner up spot and rookie of the year title in the 2021 GT World Challenge America - at her rookie season in GT3 machinery - but her debut year in European GT4 bring a whole new set of challenges: the GT4 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS CS platform, which Taylor is learning quickly and is growing more confident at each outing, as well as the completely new tracks for the American racer, who made history in 2022 by becoming the first returning IMSA TCR champion but had never raced overseas before a hugely impressive run at this year's 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. With her popularity growing worldwide, Hagler jumped on the opportunity to grow her racing resumé with a partial European campaign, joining German team W&S Motorsport at the wheel of the #442 Porsche which she shares with Gustavo Xavier. At her first race in the series, Hagler tackled the former home of the French GP at Le Castellet, collecting a top ten in the ProAm category in a hectic race 2 - and barely missing out on a top five in extremely changing weather conditions. Coming into her second race meeting at the highly challenging Spa Francorchamps, Hagler aimed to carry momentum and continue her learning process in the series. The Belgian weekend started off on a very positive note for the Texan and her teammate, who set the sixth fastest time in ProAm in the first practice session. Among the 60 car field, Xavier put the #442 Porsche in eleventh place in class and P39 overall in Q1, which set the grid for the first race of the weekend on Friday afternoon. The Brazilian took the start of race 1 and tried to navigate the field amidst the action-packed first lap around the 7.004 km circuit in the Ardennes. Florian Briche (JSB Competition Audi) had a brilliant start and completed the first lap in the overall lead, snatching place from the pole sitting Sainteloc Audi of Gregory Guilvert and the Racing Spirit of Lemans Aston Martin of Victor Weyrich. The safety car was soon deployed following a contact at the final chicane between the #45 Fullmotorsport Audi and the #44 Allied Racing Porsche. Gustavo Xavier kept it clean and avoided contacts, but fell to P12 in class after the first lap.
At the green flag, the front running positions remained unchanged; the pit window opened for the mid-race driver change and Taylor Hagler took over from Xavier on lap 10, rejoining in P12 in ProAm. Hagler soon gained a position over the Sainteloc Junior Audi of Marc Lopez Gutierrez, advancing to eleventh in ProAm. A full course yellow was deployed soon after, when two separate incidents took out the #48 GPA Racing Aston Martin of Tom Verdier - tagged and sent into the tyre barrier by the #78 Elite Motorsport McLaren - and the #76 Centri Porsche Ticino car of Patrick Hofmann. While the overall top two were unchanged after the round of pit stops - experienced GT4 racer Ricardo van der Ende had brought the #117 L'Espace Competition BMW up to third. The race went back underway with 8 minutes to go: Briche was surprised at La Source by Hamon and the Audi took the lead - as Briche was also overtaken by the BMW of van der Ende, who completed a spectacular double pass to move into first place at the end of Kemmel. Hagler moved into the top 10 in ProAm on lap 17; the driver of the #442 W&S Motorsport Porsche was eyeing a top ten in class when she lost out to the #89 AGS Events Aston Martin on the very final lap, eventually crossing the finish line in eleventh place in class.
Drivers found very different conditions on Saturday morning, when heavy rain and extremely poor visibility meant that the race was started behind the safety car. After a positive Q2, Taylor Hagler had qualified in P11 in ProAm. The race went underway with 51 minutes to go still in very tricky conditions; Pavel Lefterov (Overdrive Racing Porsche) led the pack from Alex Denning and race 1 winner Ricardo van der Ende. Hagler lost a position on lap 3, just before the safety car made its way back on track for accidents involving the #44 Allied Racing Porsche and #204 Otto Racing Porsche. The green flag was back in the air on lap 6; Lefterov held the lead, but the Borusan Otomotiv BMW of Berkay Besler was up to second, showing great pace in the wet, ahead of Luc Ibanez in the NM Racing Team Mercedes. Taylor Hagler battled with the other NM Racing Mercedes - driven by Jakub Knoll - and while they traded positions, Hagler was eventually back in 11th position. One lap later, the safety car was again leading the pack, following a contact between the #14 and #67 Sainteloc Junior Audis - with the latter ending its race in the gravel at La Source. The pit window was delayed during the neutralization - which led to penalties for a few teams that pitted. There was more chaos when the race was green flagged with 30 minutes to go, as the #42 Sainteloc Audi, second in ProAm, was hit at the Bus Stop chicane. Besler had meanwhile taken the lead, while van der Ende was dropping out of the top 10. Taylor Hagler did a perfect job in avoiding the contacts and moved up to seventh in class during the pit cycle, just before she pitted and handed over to Gustavo Xavier - completing a really strong drive. The strategy paid off for W&S Motorsport, as Xanier kept seventh after the round of pit stops and tried to chase down the #88 NM Racing Mercedes and the #45 Fullmotorsport Audi. After the driver change, Borusan Otomotiv's Tom Edgar dropped to third, as the #8 Xwift Racing Toyota of Antoine Potty managed to clear the competition and, once in first place, he extended his lead by over 4 seconds. Xavier settled in seventh place in ProAm and battled with a few entries from different classes as he tried to close in on the #88 Mercedes of Stanislav Safronov. Following a last lap contact for the #16 Mercedes and the #53 BMW, Gustavo Xavier and Taylor Hagler managed to gain one more position and were sixth among the ProAm entries - scoring their best result of the season so far.
The result means that Taylor collected 8 valuable points for the championship standings. At only her second participation in GT4 Europe, Hagler is making significant progress and clearly closing in on her first top five in the ProAm class. “The weekend at Spa was a challenging, but rewarding weekend", Hagler told us after the weekend. "This track is one that can be terrifying to take on for the first time and even more so in the rain. A big thank you to the W&S Motorsport team for their support through the ups and downs of the weekend."
"I would be remised to not mention the family of Dilano van’t Hoff remain in my thoughts and prayers as they deal with loss of their son, brother and friend", Taylor added, mentioning the 18 year old Dutch driver that sadly lost his life on Saturday morning in an accident in the FRECA support race. While on a quest to learn more European circuits and maximise racing opportunities overseas, Taylor can feel satisfied with the steps forward made in the first two weekends - as she gets ready to carry the learnings into the fourth round at Misano, on the Italian Adriatic coast, in two weeks' time.