Challenging opening round of IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for the ladies on track
A challenging GT4 debut for Hailie Deegan in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, while misfortune hit Sheena Monk in the closing minutes after an impressive Daytona weekend.
As per tradition, the iconic Daytona International Speedway hosted one of the biggest racing weekend of the new motorsport season, as the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours attracted the world attention, together with its supporting schedule.
In fact, the 2020 edition also carried the hype for the first round of the Michelin Pilot Challenge, which featured the debut at the wheel of a GT4 car for NASCAR upcoming star Hailie Deegan.
Joining the 18-year old Californian, four other ladies drivers could be found on the 51-cars field: among them, W-Series runner up Beitske Visser, Sheena Monk, Aurora Straus and Taylor Hagler.
Coming from her first successful seasons in stock cars, Deegan immediately showed confidence at the wheel of the Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang, which this round presented a
special livery in honour of American legend female driver Lyn St James, on the track where the Ohio's native conquered two 24 hours class victories.
After some solid free practice runs, Deegan was 20th fastest in the official qualifying session. She had a positive race start and drove for a double initial stint into the 4-hours race, consistently running in the midfield of the GS class and made some positions up until the top-ten. Deegan, who drove for the first time on the road Daytona course, always looked at ease with the car and built her feeling with the #22 Ford Mustang lap after lap.
Unfortunately, bad luck hit the Multimatic Motorsports crew towards the second hour of race, when, after a pit stop, she suffered a tire puncture and a suspension damage.
The Ford development driver was forced to complete an entire lap under the critical conditions in order to return to the pitlane for repairs. She rejoined after a long stop, but her race was then ultimately compromised.
The problem struck again the Ford team with 1 hour and 40 minutes were left on the clock and Hailie dropped 12 laps down the leader. The Deegan-Briscoe duo crossed the finish line in 43rd overall place.
"Had so much fun at my first IMSA race. Learned a lot of valuable things that are gonna help me in my career. Bummer that we had a mechanical failure that put us out of the race" - said Deegan.
"Just gonna take all I learned from this race and work towards the next one." - she added.
The best-placed lady in the final standing was Sheena Monk: the former Lamborghini Supertrofeo driver, together with teammate Corey Lewis, had qualified the McLaren 570S GT in an impressive fifth place for the M1 Racing team.
After losing several positions at the start for a drive through penalty, the pair found some great pace and started to climb the order, as Sheena Monk got behind the wheel of the #3 Mclaren during the second half of the race.
The American lady kept the driver's seat for a remarkable stint, before leaving the black McLaren back into the hands of Lewis in the final stages.
Corey Lewis passed a large group of competitors and reached the fifth place with only 15 minutes to go, but a final pit stop for fuel relegated the duo to the final P18.
Despite a couple of unfortunate events, Sheena Monk and Corey Lewis came home from the Daytona season opener with a very promising performance for the rest of the 2020 season.
"Not the result Corey Lewis and I deserved, but I'm still buzzing over yesterday" - said Monk. "We clawed our way back for nearly 4 hours, caught a couple lucky yellows, and found ourselves P5 in the last 15 minutes of the race. Unfortunatey luck wasn't on our side and the car barely made it back to the pit for fuel, putting us P18 at the finish."
"A big thank you to everyone involved in this effort".
BMW Motorsport Junior Driver Beitske Visser also joined the Fast track Racing team, after taking part in the ROAR Before Daytona tests. Driving a BMW M4 GT4, Beitske was quickly stopped by electronic issues during qualifying, effectively denying the team of a proper qualifying effort. Taking the start from P51 and last, Beistke started to climb the order and cleared all the TCR field, before being hindered by a slow pitstop.
Dropped from P12 to P38, Visser made her way up the order again, only to be stopped by two separate tire punctures which costed her two laps. Robbie Dalgleish and Stevan McAleer brought the Classic BMW entry to 22nd place overall.
"We gave it our all but luck wasn’t on our side this weekend" - wrote Visser. "We had great pace and were already up to P11 coming from 31st, but then we had 2X a puncture so finished P21 in the end".
In the TCR category, 24-years old Taylor Hagler shared the wheel of the #77 Honda Civic by LA Honda World Racing team with Ryan Eversley.
The girl from Texas lined up from the overall 46th position and completed a convincing initial stints in the class top-ten, until pitting for the first time on lap 26.
She continued an error-free race and made another pitstop on lap 35, as she took advantage from a full course yellow. At the restart, she was able to post her personal best lap with the car in perfect conditions.
At around the two-hours mark, Taylor Hagler handed the car to her teammate Ryan Eversley, after limping back to the pits with a front-right punture affecting the #77 Honda Civic.
Another front right tire puncture hit the expert Honda Driver on lap 101, forcing him to a non scheduled pit stop when he was vitally recovering positions in the TCR standings.
The American duo completed the 4-hours race by crossing the finish line in 12th TCR class position.
"With it being my first IMSA start, I was a little nervous heading to the green flag.
I maintened my pace and worked on trying to gain speed wherever I could. The tire puncture was very unfortunate and ended up cutting my stint early. Having issues made the day frustanting, but I learned more than I could have imagined from this experience." - commented Taylor.
However, the most unfortunate driver of the Michelin Pilot Challenge round at Daytona was young BMW driver Aurora Straus.
The full American trio composed by Straus, Billy Johnson and Connor Bloum suffered a frustrating race as their BMW M4 GT4 was hit by a ABS problem in the opening stages of the race and was halted by five punctures throughout the length of the competition, leaving no chance to compete for positions since the very beginning.
At the end, they were classified P42 overall: a real shame for the talented Turner Motorsport team, that had shown some great pace during practice and qualifying. They claimed, in fact, the ninth position on the starting grid and were the fastest BMW car on the field.
The race was characterized by exciting battles throughout the field: the Riley Motorsport #35 Mercedes driven by Murry-Cox-Bleekemolen won the GS standings, ahead of the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes and the sister #4 car in third place.
The race ended under Safety Car conditions after a heavy crash occurred in the final minutes to the #19 Multimatic Motorsports Ford. Scott Maxwell went hard into the tire barriers at the Bus Stop chicane but walked away unscathed after a long extrication.
The next round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will be on March 19th at Sebring International Raceway.
In Sheena's words:
"Not the result Corey Lewis and I deserved, but I'm still buzzing over yesterday"
Cover Ph Credits: NTe Sport by M1 Racing