"A top-five finish under our belt is a great feeling after just three rounds" - Taylor Hagler secured her first top-five in the ProAm class of the highly-competitive GT4 European Championship, making a big step forward in performance at Misano.
Taylor Hagler continued to make big progress in her GT4 Europe campaign - her first international racing programme - and after top 10 in class, the US American racer scored her first top five finish at Misano World Circuit, at only her third appearance in what is arguably the most competitive GT4 series in the world.
Hagler is teaming up with Gustavo Xavier behind the wheel of the W&S Motorsport #442 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 and has been progressing at impressive pace since her debut at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The two-time IMSA TCR champion - who also has GT3 experience after a remarkable 2021 season in SRO America, where she was named rookie of the year - is on a learning-oriented season on European tracks, started with her first participation in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. Part of the Hyundai factory effort at the Ring, Hagler finished second in class and then continued to explore opportunities in sports cars overseas.
The challenging weekend at Spa Francorchamps brought another top-10 in the ProAm class, but Hagler and Xavier have been closing in on a top five since the season opener at Paul Ricard and the fourth round at Misano was further proof of their ability to overcome adversities and climb the order in the races.
Located on the Italian riviera, Misano World Circuit provided great racing but the big topic was the extreme heat, which represented an extra human and mechanical challenge.
Hagler and Xavier were in the ProAm top ten in the opening practice, as they focused on learning the secrets of the 16-corner 4.226 km track, which features some high speed sections alternated with more technical parts - and which reminded Taylor of Le Castellet.
Gustavo Xavier was in charge of qualifying the car in Q1, which would set the grid for the first race on Saturday. The Brazilian posted a 1:42.808 that put the #442 Porsche in P13 among the ProAm entries.
At the start of the race, Xavier kept position in a mostly clean start throughout the 44 car field; from pole overall, Benjamin Lariche (#3 Team Speedcar Audi) managed to open a small gap to the pursuers, as Ibanez (#15 NM Racing Mercedes) and Rappange (#17 V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro) fought for second and third.
Gustavo Xavier had good pace and, by lap 3, he had gained a position in class and a few spots overall.
15 minutes into the race, the first Full Course Yellow was deployed when the #53 W&D Racing Team's BMW M4 GT4 of Tresoldi went off and made contact with the barriers at Curvone; Xavier had been chasing the #44 Allied Racing Porsche - just a few seconds up the road in eleventh place before the neutralization.
The green flag waved again shortly after - but the action would remain green for the shortest time, a few more contacts resulted in Noam Abramcyk having to retire his IDEC Sport Audi in the gravel. Midway through the race, the round of pit stops with mandatory driver change was underway: Xavier handed over to Taylor Hagler on lap 17 from P10 in class.
Hagler rejoined in P12, with strategy proving to be difficult amidst the frequent safety car disruptions. A third Full Course Yellow was deployed to retrieve the #19 Aston Martin from the gravel trap; the subsequent safety car allowed Hagler to close in on the group of cars ahead, but time was running out to further climb the order.
At the restart, Hagler was faster than the #26 Racing Spirit of Leman Aston Martin, 8 seconds up the road; she pushed hard but had to settle for P12, finishing less than 3 seconds behind.
Gabriele Piana took a last lap victory over Robert Consani after a prolonged battle in the second stint, with Alexandre Papadopulos (NM Racing Mercedes) rounding out the overall podium.
A great qualifying effort for Taylor Hagler in Q2 meant that the young Texan lined up in eighth place among the ProAm cars. Robert Consani led the way for Team Speedcar Audi at the start, but Berkay Besler (Borusan Otomotiv BMW) had an even better launch and made a move for the lead at turn 2, snatching P1 from Consani, who then lost second to Mateo Villagomez (Racing Spirit of Leman Aston Martin).
Hagler retained eighth in class after the first lap - and climbed to seventh as the #67 Sainteloc Junior Audi dropped back. Taylor found herself just behind the W&S Motorsport sister car of Vasily Vladykin, competing in the Silver class, and she would overtake him for overall position, then chasing the #75 Centri Porsche Ticino 718 Cayman of Leutwiler. Unfortunately a spin on lap 7 cost Hagler a few positions, as she fell to 12th in class. Ahead, Consani was making up for the lost ground on the first lap and caught back up with Besler on lap 10, also followed by Gabriele Piana. The Hofor Racing driver made a spectacular double pass at Curvone to take the overall lead, but then had to defend from the #12 BMW. As the race remained green, Hagler closed back in on the pack and gained 11th in class. The round of pit stops shuffled the order and Hagler stayed out, trying to recover time in clean air. She navigated through the field up to the ProAm class lead on lap 17; she eventually stopped one lap later and handed over to Gustavo Xavier, who slotted back in P11. After the pit stops, the Borusan Otomotiv BMW of Tom Edgar had retained the lead - after Besler had been battling for the top spot with Piana throughout the final laps of his stint. Now in the Hofor Racing BMW, Michael Schrey was following the Turkish team by less than half a second. Xavier passed Mike Parisi (#89 AGS Events Aston Martin) and recovered to eighth in ProAm, also after a contact that took out the #36 Alpine of Antoine Leclerc and an unrelated incident for the #30 W&S Motorsport Porsche of Hendrik Still. The Brazilian driver caught a group of ProAm cars battling for positions; he moved ahead of Safronov, but then had to close a 4 second gap to the car ahead. Both the #18 Aston Martin and #14 Audi picked up a 5 second time penalty - and Gustavo Xavier therefore snatched fifth place after a great recovery, claiming the first top five finish for the #442 W&S Motorsport entry that he shares with Taylor Hagler. "Misano was a big improvement for us!", Hagler commented. "A top-five finish under our belt is a great feeling after just three rounds in the GT4 European Series competition." "This series has top competition and to see the results get better each weekend is rewarding", she continued. "I’m looking forward to fighting for the podium positions in our last two races of the season with W&S Motorsport! With 10 points collected at Misano, Hagler now has 19 points in the ProAm drivers' standings, with two rounds left on the GT4 Europe's schedule.