Taylor Hagler back on the podium, keeps points lead after Road America
Taylor Hagler scored her fifth podium of the season after a great recovery from P11 to P3 at Road America, in the second 4-hour race of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season. The American continues to lead the TCR championship standings with two rounds to go.
The brilliant 2022 season continues for reigning TCR champion Taylor Hagler, who headed to Road America for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge eighth round - and second four-hour race this year after the Daytona season opener.
The world-famous 4.048-mile road course has been friendly territory for Hagler, who claimed her first SRO victory in GT3 last year - a win that proved crucial in securing her GT World Challenge America Rookie of the Year title.
In her championship-winning run in IMPC, though, the Bryan Herta Autosport driver - who shares driving duties with Michael Lewis - was 11th after a troubled race hampered by some mechanical issues as well as mixed weather; Hagler and Lewis, current championship leaders in TCR, were thus looking forward to make up for that result, coming from a positive streak of results that made consistency Hagler's best weapon in her second title hunt.
“Road America is just a great track to drive and having this longer format will give the team more options for strategy through the race,” said Hagler before the Road America 240 event. “We were able to bounce back at Lime Rock Park and we’ve been good pace-wise just about everywhere so hopefully we can keep that going this weekend."
"The track has been good for me in the past, and Michael [Lewis] and I are really hunting for a win. Hopefully we can make this happen with the Elantra this weekend.”
The second four-hour race of the year was off to a challenging qualifying for the duo, as the drivers of the #1 BHA Hyundai Elantra TCR qualified in P11. But there was plenty of time to recover - and Taylor Hagler, who got behind the wheel for the opening stint, had a great getaway and immediately started to move up the order.
16-year-old Luca Mars (Kohr Motorsports Mustang) led the field at turn 1 having scored his first pole position in the series, preceding Koch (Murillo Racing Mercedes) and teammate Johnson. In a clean start for the TCR field, Tim Lewis (KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo Giulietta) quickly cleared Gilsinger and Gonzalez - but the latter would soon move into the lead in the #19 Van Der Steur Racing Hyundai at the end of the first lap.
With a series of great passes, Taylor Hagler navigated through the field and advanced to P8 in the opening stages - but the race was soon neutralized for the big crash of the #71 Rebel Rock Racing Camaro. It would be only the first of an unfortunate series of accidents that significantly disrupted the first half of the race.
Most of the TCR field pitted and the race went back to green with 3 hours and 24 minutes to go - only for the second caution to come out when the #9 Porsche of Owen crashed at the Kink, causing the TCR cars to back off in a cloud of dust that caught out a few cars. Taylor Hagler was able to take evasive action and moved into fifth place.
During the caution, pit stops and driver changes started: having gained six places from their starting position, Taylor Hagler handed over to Michael Lewis at approximately the one hour mark.
There was more drama at the restart, as the #59 Kohr Motorsports Mustang of Michaelian was tagged by the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW and sustained a big hit under the bridge.
Luckily, the race settled at the restart for some green flag racing: Michael Lewis started a solid stint from eighth in class and recovered to fifth at the next caution, when Sheena Monk - protagonist of a brilliant first half of the race - was pushed off track by Brynjolfsson at the mid-race point.
Meanwhile, the Van Der Steur Racing Hyundai continued to lead in class, but the competition for the podium was heated. Victor Gonzalez (#99 VGRT Honda Civic) dropped out of contention when he lost the front left tyre after a pit stop and retired.
Robert Wickens also hit trouble, as the driver of the #33 BHA Hyundai Elantra was slowed down by a technical issue in the hands-control and the team had to perform a second driver change, with Wilkins returning behind the wheel for the final stages.
Michael Lewis stayed out and made it into the lead after passing the #5 Alfa Romeo Giulietta during a pit stop cycle. The stop under green put the #1 Elantra in fifth place as the final hour of racing approached. The class leading Van Der Steur Racing machine of Tyler Gonzalez suffered a suspension failure under braking and gave way to Wilkins, Simpson and Michael Lewis.
The final Full Course Yellow was deployed with 34 minutes to go, when the #65 Murillo Mercedes of Probert crashed. Alec Udell (#66 Kelly Moss Porsche) had gambled on fuel and was running on fumes, but they decided to roll the dice and stayed out just before the caution gave him a chance to try to go to the end. The interruption was in fact even longer as the #21 Riley Motorsports Mercedes lost a wheel under yellow and had to be retrieved from the gravel with 20 minutes to go.
In TCR, the KMW Motorsport Alfa Romeo Giulietta driven by Tim Lewis also gambled and made an extra pit stop for new tyres under caution. His strategy paid off and, at the restart, he charged through the field and claimed the race lead on the last lap of the race.
In the final minutes, Michael Lewis had to give up second place to the eventual race winner, but held on to third, behind the #54 BHA Hyundai of Simpson, securing yet another podium finish for the #1 crew.
“We had a solid day going from eleventh to third, but there are always things that I want to do better,” explained Hagler after the eventful race. “We definitely made changes to make that happen this weekend but still have room to grow before VIR."
"I really tried to keep the car as clean as I could through the traffic and multiple yellows to hand Michael [Lewis] a good car. I’m happy with the movement we made to still lead the championship.”
With another strong weekend, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis add another podium to their resumé - the fifth this year - and retain the championship lead in TCR by 30 points.
With now two rounds left, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge enters its final stages: the next round is scheduled for 26-28 August at VIRginia International Raceway, before the season finale at Road Atlanta.