Podium for Taylor Hagler & P4 for Sheena Monk in Michelin Pilot Challenge at Mid-Ohio
The two female drivers of the Michelin Pilot Challenge had another remarkablly solid round at Mid-Ohio, third round of the 2021 season. Texan Taylor Hagler was again on the TCR class podium in second, while Sheena Monk finished fourth in GS class.
Coming from their first podium of the season at Sebring, Taylor Hagler entered the third round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge on top of the TCR class standings. Hagler, 25, has enjoyed an impressive start to her 2021 racing programs, both in the IMSA support series and the World Challenge America by SRO, where she made her GT3 debut and also claimed podium finishes.
The Texas-born driver was feeling optimistic about the race at this technical circuit, which was the location of her best results in the series in 2020.
"Mid-Ohio was great to me last year but now I have higher expectations for myself to better on last year’s visit,” said Hagler before the event. “We recently tested at Mid-Ohio which allowed me to familiarize myself with how the Hyundai Veloster N TCR drives there. We have a strong car that works well at technical tracks like this so we know we will be contenders at the end of the day."
"It is always great to be working with the BHA team but even more when we bring home some hardware." - she added.
Returning to the series was also Sheena Monk, driver of the #3 MIA McLaren 570S GT4 in the GS class. Monk, sharing the car with former Indycar racer Spencer Pigot, also had a promising start of the season but the duo was ultimately not able to capitalize on pace and finished P9 and P8 at Daytona and Sebring.
At Mid-Ohio, Sheena Monk started from seventh, while Taylor Hagler lined up on P31 overall - tenth in TCR class. The race start was clean for both the GS and TCR fields, with Monk promptly moving up to sixth position.
Meanwhile, Chris Green took the overall lead of the race in the #13 AWA McLaren when Ernstone (Road Shagger Racing Audi) was pushed off. TCR was initially led by Miller in the #17 Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS. Both the ladies gained some more positions, as Taylor Hagler moved into P29 overall and Sheena Monk to fifth.
After a few hectic laps and some incidents, the TCR and GS classes started to mix and, while the GT4 cars appeared a bit spread out, TCR cars battled hard in the bunched-up group. Miller dropped back significantly and Van der Steur in the #19 Hyundai took over the lead. Taylor Hagler continued her recovery and advanced to eighth in class.
Gottsacker was also starting to close in on Chase, while Miller tried to strike back.
A few minutes later, Van der Steur paved the way for Chase after a prolonged and very exciting side-by-side fight that saw the drivers switching positions for several corners.
When the #13 AWA McLaren was almost ten seconds clear of the competition, Green pitted for fuel in a surprising call, allowing Sheena Monk to move up to fourth overall. The former leader rejoined in P15.
In TCR, Van der Steur reclaimed the leadership, followed by Gottsacker and Chase: the latter managed to catch the second-placed #33 Hyundai Elantra and they swapped places.
Hagler overtook Ernstone for seventh in class - the two made slight contact, with the #61 Audi going off; both continued and Hagler stayed out.
Iglesias and Kvamme also spun.
Sheena Monk moved into a podium position before the round of pitstop: the driver of the white and green Motorsports In Action McLaren went for a longer stint and advanced to second before her mandatory pitstop.
Behind the wheel of the American Wheelman #42 Ford Mustang GT4, Roush Jr stopped on the track and it took some time before the full course yellow was finally deployed: Chase. meanwhile, had just claimed the lead in TCR.
When the Safety Car came in, most of the teams took the opportunity to dive into the pits for their driver change - among them, Sheena Monk left the wheel to Spencer Pigot, completing a great first half of the race. Taylor Hagler also pitted and handed over to Michael Lewis.
After the rounds of pit stops, Plumb (#46 TeamTGM Camaro) was leading in GS and Maxson (#27 Copeland Motorsports Hyundai) in TCR, having taken over from Gonzalez.
With 53 minutes left on the clock, the race went back to green and the fight for the top five resumed: Hindman charged through and was quickly from fifth to third, as Auberlen made contact with Pigot - who got ahead and into fifth place having rejoined eighth.
Michael Lewis also was able to get within the top five in TCR, but the recovery of the former F3 racer wasn't over, as he quickly gained three more positions soon after and clinched second in class, behind BHA teammate Norman.
McCumbee went off in the #40 PF Racing Mustang, as he tried to get limp back to the pits with a heavily damaged front-end of his car. The incident required the intervention of a second full course yellow.
Racing resumed with 18 minutes to go: in GS, Hindman attempted an attack on Heylen, but couldn't make the move stick and was off track - allowing Wittmer back ahead of the whole field in the #13 AWA McLaren. In these action-packed phases, Spencer Pigot held fifth and Lewis was second in TCR.
Another crash in the GS category saw Plumb (TeamTGM Camaro) dropping down with significant damage. He would slot into 19th place overall.
On the final lap of the race, the big fight for the overall victory was down to Kuno Wittmer and Jan Heylen - both of them absolutely committed to finishing in front. In the end, it was Wittmer to claim the win, ahead of Heylen (Wright Motorsports Porsche) and Udell (Winward Racing Mercedes). Spencer Pigot and Sheena Monk finished a very solid race in P4.
In TCR, Norman secured victory, followed by Michael Lewis/Taylor Hagler.
Hagler was very pleased with the team's performance and with the result - again a second place one year after her first podium in the series.
“Mid-Ohio seems to always be good to me,” said Hagler. “The goal for my stint was to gain positions on track while keeping the No. 77 in good condition for Michael (Lewis) to take over. I had some of the closest racing I have been a part of out there and keeping my head down while focusing on what I needed to do helped me navigate that."
"The BHA team has continued to give us a phenomenal car that is fun to drive and able to get us results. This track keeps growing on me!” - concluded Taylor, who remains on top of the class standings with 900 points after three races.
With her strong run at Mid-Ohio, Sheena Monk also recovers positions in the points table: the young American is now third in the GS standings.
"A good P4 at Mid-Ohio for us in the J.G. Wentworth McLaren, considering some contact and other things that didn't quite go to plan. We're chipping away little by little and I'm more focused than ever." wrote Sheena Monk on her Instagram profile.
The next round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will be the 4-hour race at Watkins Glen on June 26th. But, prior to that, Taylor Hagler will return behind the wheel of the Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 for the third round of the SRO GT World Challenge America at VIRginia International Raceway, on June 4th.