Charging race at Watkins Glen goes unrewarded for Taylor Hagler
An impressive charge at Watkins Glen ultimately ended unrewarded for Taylor Hagler, who now aims at regaining momentum - and the lead of the standings - at the sixth round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR reigning champion Taylor Hagler has been the protagonist of another strong season in the Hyundai Elantra N TCR operated by Bryan Herta Autosport in 2022, as the Texan racer - alongside teammate Michael Lewis - entered the fifth round of the season in the championship lead and with a 130 points advantage over class competitors, thanks to three second place finishes out of four race meetings.
On a mission to defend their title, Hagler and Lewis headed to Watkins Glen International with high hopes, over a month since their previous race event. The iconic racetrack - which has also hosted multiple F1 GPs between 1961 and 1980 - was familiar ground for Hagler, who raced to a podium in both the Michelin Pilot Challenge and SRO GT World Challenge in 2021.
“We have some great momentum with the Elantra after the Mid-Ohio weekend,” said Hagler prior to the race event. “Every race the team finds a way to improve the car and our strategy at the same time. Last year, Michael [Lewis] and I had two really good runs at the Glen and hopefully we can do that again and keep bringing home solid finishes."
"This race kicks off a busy month of events so I’m pretty excited to get going this weekend and I can’t wait to get back in the Hyundai."
Unfortunately, their weekend was off to a bumpy start, as the #1 Hyundai was forced to sit out qualifying due to gearbox issues that resulted in a start from the very back of the field.
Hagler took the start for the first stint and was immediately up to P12 in the TCR class at the end of the first lap, having gained four positions. The first ever female champion in the series continued to make up places and, by lap 8, she was back in the top ten.
A big incident involving the #21 Riley motorsports' Toyota driven by Dias Perera put the race under Full Course Yello conditions 20 minutes into the race.
Once the pit lane opened, Hagler stopped for new tyres and rejoined in 13th place after the round of pit stops.
In a race heavily disrupted by tyre punctures across the field, Hagler stayed out once the first TCR entries dived back into pit road to perform their driver change - and her race took a turn for the worse when the Full Course Yellow was deployed for debris just before her driver change. Hagler eventually pitted from second place in TCR once the pit lane reopened and handed over the #1 Hyundai Elantra to Michael Lewis, who rejoined in P9.
With 40 minutes left on the clock, Wilkins (#33 BHA Hyundai) led the TCR field having taken over from Robert Wickens, just before the pole sitting sister car of Maxson came to a halt, bringing out another FCY.
Michael Lewis, meanwhile, was able to climb back into seventh place, before the #73 LA Honda of Eversley brought out another Safety Car.
At the restart, Bill Auberlen attacked and passed the Porsche of McAleer and the two Murillo Racing Mercedes AMG GT4 of Koch and Szymczak, then pulling away in the overall lead. After a great fight for the lead in TCR, Wilkins held off the charge of the Alfa Romeo Giuletta Veloce TCR of Tim Lewis Jr and crossed the finish line 0.374 seconds ahead to score Robert Wickens' first victory after his return to racing.
In the final minute, the #17 Audi slowed down and Michael Lewis was able to snatch sixth place in class, after a remarkable charge from last on the grid.
What would have been yet another brilliant performance by Taylor Hagler and her teammate, though, turned out to be an unrewarded effort, as the duo was demoted to last after a penalty for drive time infringement.
“Last weekend didn’t go quite as planned, and I’m glad to have a quick turnaround to head to CTMP,” said Hagler, who now switched her focus to this week's round at Mosport.
“I am really looking forward to jumping back in the Hyundai so soon after the Glen, and racing on a track I have never competed on. We will get back to doing what we do best in the Elantra, and hopefully get back on top of championship points once our time in Canada is over.”
Despite the unfortunate round, in fact, they only sit 30 points behind the new championship leaders.
With the IMSA back-to-back, Hagler now has the opportunity to bounce back only a few days later, as she heads to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, an hour east of Toronto, Canada.
A Hyundai Canada event on Monday gave the young driver the chance to discover the track for the first time ahead of the race meeting.
“It is remarkable how much Hyundai puts their arms around this IMSA program with Bryan Herta Autosport,” said Hagler. “The race program is a great way to tell the story about the brand, and having events like these are great examples of that. And it doesn’t hurt at all that it meant I was able to get some slow laps to get familiar with the track ahead of the weekend!”
The sixth round of the IMPC season is scheduled to go green on July 2 at 4:10pm ET.