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IMPC: Third consecutive Top-10 for Taylor Hagler

Taylor Hagler ran a solid third round of the season in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Laguna Seca and made up positions in her first half of the race before a contact in the second stint hindered her chances for a top five.

Taylor Hagler, Bryan Herta Autosport, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, 2024 Laguna Seca
Photo courtesy: PG Communications

Taylor Hagler ran a solid third round of the season in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Laguna Seca and made up positions in her first half of the race before a contact in the second stint hindered her chances for a top five.

Nevertheless, the Bryan Herta Autosport driver and her teammate Bryson Morris still collected their third consecutive top ten finish in the TCR class.

The start of the 2024 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season has seen the two-time champion showing good speed, improved qualifying performance and very consistent race pace - although a multitude of unfortunate circumstances prevented the Texan racer from collecting the deserved results so far.

Hagler had in fact achieved her best qualifying in the series to date with a fourth place at Sebring International Raceway at the previous round - and was closing in on a podium finish until a puncture halted her progress. The third round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was therefore another chance for Hagler and Morris to finally capitalize on their speed - on an important weekend for Hyundai.

The Northern California circuit is in fact the home track for the US headquarters of the manufacturer: "Representing Hyundai during their homecoming race is an honor," said Hagler before the race. "The BHA team has had great results at Laguna Seca, because of that we know what it takes to be on the podium here", Hagler continued. "The No. 77 Hyundai Elantra N TCR is strong, we saw that at Sebring. Bryson [Morris] and I will carry that knowledge with us with the goal of putting the No. 77 Hyundai back on the podium."

The drivers of the #77 Hyundai built speed over the practice sessions and Taylor took over driving duties for qualifying, setting a 1:31.015 - the car's best lap until that point throughout the sessions. She would line up seventh on the grid for the two-hour race on Saturday afternoon. Bryan Ortiz (Montreal Motorsport Honda Civic) shared the front row of the grid with Miller's Unitronic JDC Miller Motorsport Audi, who preceded the two BHA Hyundais of Harry Gottsacker and Mark Wilkins.

On a sunny California day, the MOTUL Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N got underway and Hagler was off to a good start among the TCR field, holding seventh position throughout the first laps that saw the TCR cars already mixing with the GT4 field, with remarkably similar lap times.

A big accident for the #38 BGB Motorsports Porsche at turn 5 brought out the first caution on lap 2, but the race could resume on lap 6. Hagler's pace was on par with the class front runners and she closed in on the #93 Honda of Yoshihara - before a second full course yellow was deployed, when the #80 Victor Gonzalez Racing Hyundai came to a halt with fire coming off the front of the car.

Taylor moved up to sixth place and stayed out when some of the TCR entries at the back of the field opted to pit for fuel under caution. Positions at the front remained unchanged at the restart, but Taylor was soon on the move and climbed to fifth - with the whole pack still separated by a handful of seconds after almost 40 minutes of racing.

Hagler continued to run close to the top four; unfortunately a small mistake at the exit of turn 2 cost her a position on lap 22, but she soon recovered and reclaimed fifth a couple of laps later from the #17 Unitronic Audi. Miller fought back towards the end of the stint, when also the #61 Road Shagger Racing Audi got past as the race reached the mid-way point.

As the TCR round of pit stops started, Hagler eventually pitted on lap 34 and handed over to Bryson Morris for the second half of the race, rejoining in tenth place in class.

Ahead, Gou (#55 Gou Racing) was the last driver to pit and Morris could leapfrog him after the round of pit stops was completed.

Mason Filippi found himself in the race lead, ahead of Robert Wickens and Montour, while the #77 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai would have to close a 30 second gap to the top of the class. From third, the #6 Montreal Motorsport Honda went off in the gravel twice on the same lap and dropped to sixth, then pitted with a tyre puncture.

Morris also hit trouble, as a contact with the #55 Gou Racing Audi resulted in a pit stop. The #77 Hyundai could rejoin, albeit in P9 and one lap down. He hunted down the #76 sister car of Dupont, who had also hit trouble earlier, and consistently gained time over his competitor.

An almost 10 second gap was reduced to under 2 seconds over the second part of his stint, and eventually caught the #76 machine with a few minutes to go. The two Hyundai Elantras were separated by three tenths on the final lap but Morris couldn't eventually make a move stick for eighth and crossed the finish line in P9, securing the third top ten of the season.

“Laguna Seca is an iconic track and even better when we celebrate Hyundai’s U.S. home race!" - Hagler commented. "We battled through the race and, unfortunately, a racing incident put us a lap down. Luckily, this is the time of year we can quickly regroup and move forward with Mid-Ohio just around the corner in June.”

Hagler and Morris currently sit eighth in the championship standings, with 670 points.

The next round will be the second four-hour race of the season, held at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 7-9.



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