Taylor Hagler back on the podium, reclaims championship lead
Taylor Hagler bounced back in style at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, as the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge class reigning champion was back on the podium at her first ever race at the Canadian venue and reclaimed the championship lead.
After a challenging weekend at Watkins Glen, Taylor Hagler was able to immediately bounce back and returned to the podium with another strong performance at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), at her first visit to the Canadian venue. 2021 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge reigning champion in the TCR class had lost her championship lead at the previous round just a few days earlier but, together with teammate Michael Lewis, the drivers of the #1 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR were back to their usual form. Hagler had just discovered the track earlier in the week in a Hyundai street car - as part of a marketing event that the brand has developed as part of its IMSA program - and quickly learned the secrets of the 3.957 km (2.459 miles) historic track, which has hosted several editions of the F1 Canadian GP from 1961 to 1977. “I really appreciated the on the track opportunity with Mark [Wilkins] and Hyundai Canada,” Taylor said. “It’s always great to spend as much time on track as I can with Hyundai and the Bryan Herta Autosport IMSA program. I’m looking forward to all we can accomplish this season and beyond.” Coming off an impressive start of the season that saw Hagler and Lewis scoring three second places out of the first four rounds, gearbox issues in qualifying hampered their chances at Watkins Glen, when a post-race penalty also nullified their efforts after a great recovery drive. The sixth round of the 2022 IMPC at CTMP was therefore the perfect chance to claim back that top spot in the championship standings - and Hagler delivered once again. On a compressed schedule that saw drivers hitting the track for practice and qualifying on the same day, Hagler qualified in 6th position - in her third top-six of the season in qualifying - and had a great first part of the race where she had to navigate through the field while still managing the tyre life in order to allow Michael Lewis to complete the charge in the second half of the race. The young Texan recovered positions - also battling with some of the GS entries - and was up to fourth on lap 15, when the #1 BHA pitted during a caution period. After a clean run, she would hand over to Michael Lewis at the 1 hour mark on lap 35 from eighth in the TCR class. During the hectic pit stop sequence, the #26 TWOth Autosport Audi RS3 LMS TCR of Hill was the last to pit on lap 46 - which then paved the way for the dominant Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundais: the pole-sitting #77 of Maxson, which had led the opening stages of the race and then dropped down at the first Full Course Yellow, was back in the class lead, preceding the #33 of Wilkins - who had taken over from home hero Robert Wickens - and the #98 driven by Harry Gottsacker. After the pit stop sequence, Michael Lewis was climbing the order and found himself in fourth place - until a late Full Course Yellow on lap 58 re-opened the battle for the win. Lewis, in fact, perfectly managed the restart and moved into second place, while race leader Filippi dropped to eighth. It would be Mark Wilkins to snatch the lead in the #33 Elantra, leading Michael Lewis and Gottsacker - the latter battling and ultimately making contact with the #17 Unitronic by JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi of Mikey Taylor at the final corner. Despite blistering pace in the final laps, Michael Lewis remained within the half a second gap to Wilkins, but was never close enough to attempt a pass for the win on the extremely fast and tricky CTMP layout. Crossing the line just a few seconds behind Wickens/Wilkins, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis scored another podium and added great points to their championship tally, in a Bryan Herta Autosport 1-2-3. “We really risked it all today to be back on the podium” - Hagler summed up . “The speed of this place is no joke, and I’m glad I was finally able to race here with the Elantra." "Michael [Lewis] did a great job moving us back up in the top five and even was incredibly close to a win. I think we had the right strategy, and the car was very fast. I’m impressed with what we did today, but I’m motivated to keep pushing as the IMPC season continues.” It was the second win in just as many weeks for the Canadian duo of the #33 crew - which was even more precious for Robert Wickens as he had missed the whole practice day as her wife gave birth to their first child on Friday. From last on the grid, Wickens charged up to second before his teammate successfully completed the mission. In the overall classification, the Murillo Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT4 of Miller/Foss and Murillo/Szymczak brought home a dominant 1-2 after switching positions at the first caution pit sequence, when Kenny Murillo lost the lead to the sister car of Marc Miller. At the driver change, the two Mercedes remained on each other's tail, but Eric Foss held off the attacks of Christian Szymczak and won by 0.338 of a second. With their fourth second place this season, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis reclaimed the top of the drivers' standings in the TCR class, now 40 points clear of second-placed Roy Block and Tim Lewis. Hagler has consistently proven her speed in both GT3 and TCR racing and will return to IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for the seventh round of the season at Lime Rock Park on July 16 - as she aims to defend her class title.