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IMPC: Taylor Hagler battles at the top at Sebring, secures top-10 despite contact

Taylor Hagler's best ever qualifying with Hyundai in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge was followed by arguably her best performance in the series, as she was about to take the lead of the race after over one hour of racing - before a contact took the #77 BHA Hyundai out of contention for the win, still salvaging a ninth place.

Taylor Hagler, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, BHA Hyundai Elantra TCR, Sebring 2024
Photo courtesy: PG Communications

Two-time IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Taylor Hagler resumed her 2024 campaign at Sebring International Raceway for the second round of the 10-race championship at the wheel of the #77 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR.

Alongside new teammate Bryson Morris, Hagler was the protagonist of a promising start of the season at the 4-hour Daytona race, where she had great pace and was steadily moving up the order until she was crashed out by a competitor after a safety car restart while she was running with the leading pack.

At the 17-turns, 6.019 km track, Hagler was aiming to bounce back, returning to a circuit that gave her a victory in GT World Challenge America in 2021 as well as three podiums between SRO and IMSA competitions.

"Sebring is a historic track that challenges you as a driver with the infamous track surface", Taylor explained. "BHA has had success there before and we now going into our third year with Hyundai Elantra N TCR have a good idea of how we need to prepare the car for this race. I am ready to get back behind the wheel and get the weekend started!"

Hagler, who made her 65th career start, soon showed good speed in the practice sessions, ending the day as the 7th fastest team and 10th among all TCR drivers – ahead of her co-driver – with her 2:14.692 in the second session placing her in a good position for qualifying.

And Hagler indeed delivered, with a remarkable qualifying performance that saw the #77 Hyundai setting the fourth fastest time in the TCR class. Her 2:13.998 was in fact her fastest lap around Sebring and made for her best qualifying effort in the series since joining Hyundai in 2021.

Bryan Herta Autosport's teammate Harry Gottsackerset pole position, ahead of Chris Miller (Unitronic JDC Miller Motorsports Audi) and Mason Filippi's Hyundai.

On a hot day at the Florida venue, the green flag flew for the two-hour race on Friday and Gottsacker held the TCR lead, as Miller was under pressure from Filippi and Hagler – who both had aggressive starts. One lap later, the Unitronic Audi got closer again to the #33 leading Hyundai, as Chris Miller set the fastest lap and started to put pressure on Gottsacker.

Taylor Hagler, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, BHA Hyundai Elantra TCR, Sebring 2024
Photo credits: Jake Galstad

On the 2:15 pace, Hagler held on to fourth nicely in the opening stages, settling in fourth and around two seconds behind the leading trio. The race remained green also when Gou's #55 Audi picked up puncture and slowed down on the back straight, and a contact for Michaelian saw the #59 Kohr Motorsport's Mustang dropping down the order. The #92 Random Vandals BMW was handed a penalty for causing the collision.

The two TCR leaders ran into the GS traffic and Chris Miller seized the opportunity to make a move stick for the lead on lap 8. Hagler's times remained competitive and her gap to the top was stable; by lap 10, the two-time series champion was faster than the cars ahead, but the race was neutralized when the #88 Archangel Motorsport Aston Martin started leaking fluid and eventually caught fire in the run-off of turn 5.

Both the GS and TCR fields pitted under yellow; Taylor Hagler pulled into the pits on lap 14 for new tyres and fuel, but lost out a couple of positions in the busy pit road; ahead, the two Victor Gonzalez Racing's Elantras stayed out.

Once the driving time was met, the Unitronic Audi pitted for the second time for the driver change. The restart followed, but a contact between Haleem and Cooper at turn 1 brought out another yellow.

Now fifth, Taylor Hagler was chasing the #5 KMW Alfa of Tim Lewis, who had gained positions at the previous pit stop. Most of the TCR front-runners, though, pitted as soon as the race went back to green for their mandatory driver change and the #6 Montreal Motorsport Group Honda Civic led the pack, ahead of Taylor Hagler - barely six tenths from the race lead as the contest reached the mid-way point. Just as she had the speed to take the lead, an unfortunate contact with the #6 Honda at turn 1 resulted in a puncture and, eventually, in another caution when the #77 Hyundai lost the front tyre carcass on the way back to the pits.

Bryson Morris jumped onboard and rejoined, albeit one lap down and in 14th place.

The race went back to green with 42 minutes to go; the strategy had played perfectly in favor of the #17 Unitronic Audi, who now led from the #80 VGR Hyundai and the #89 HART Honda; Bryson Morris moved up to 12th – but the team was handed a 60 second stop and go penalty for the driver change during an emergency stop.

Despite the significant gap to the lead, Morris set the fastest lap of the race in 2:14.397.

In the final 20 minutes of the race, there was close action in both the classes and a brilliant 7-car battle for second saw many position changes. Miller/Taylor eventually took the win by three seconds, while second place went to Victor Gonzalez Racing's Burkhard/Jones, ahead of Lally/Tucker for Starcom Racing. Post race penalties, though, demoted the VGR Hyundai to the back - as well as the #6 Montreal Motorsport Honda and the #89 HART Honda.

Showcasing their potential this weekend, Bryson Morris was able to recover to ninth and retained the fastest lap of the race – half a second faster than the winner – after a very unfortunate 2 hour race at Sebring that was arguably one of Taylor Hagler's best drives in the series to date.

Taylor ran at the top throughout her stint and was at times faster than the leaders; she had the speed to take the lead just before the unfortunate contact – but she can be satisfied with the pace shown all weekend.

“A disappointing end to otherwise a good weekend", Hagler summed up. "The Bryan Herta Autosport team gave Bryson [Morris] and I a fast car and I am proud to have had my best qualifying result with Hyundai yet", she continued. "Unfortunately, our race did not go as planned. We will regroup and learn from this weekend as we prepare for our next race at Laguna Seca.”

The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge calendar will now have a lengthy pause, as the third round is scheduled at Laguna Seca at the end of May.



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