Taylor Hagler claims first win, leads Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR standings
IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship leader in TCR class Taylor Hagler is enjoying a stunning season so far and claimed her first professional racing victory at Lime Rock Park to extend her points lead.
After the IMSA and IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge double-headers at the historic track of Watkins Glen, the premier North American sportscar championship headed to another challenging racetrack: Connecticut's Lime Rock Park, which played host to the IMSA Northeast Grand Prix.
On the grid of IMSA's main support series, two female drivers are turning heads for their remarkable seasons so far: in GS class, Sheena Monk has become a consistent front runner in the #3 Motorsports In Action McLaren 570S GT4 that she shares with Spencer Pigot. The pair entered the sixth round of the 2021 season from third in the championship standings, fresh from a podium at the first race at the Glen.
In TCR class, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis are having an equally exciting season and approached last weekend's round as the class championship leaders. It is Hagler's second season in the series – her first at the wheel of the Bryan Herta Autosports' Hyundai Veloster N TCR. In addition to this program, the lady from Texas is also competing in her first GT3 racing campaign, as she tackles the GT World Challenge America championship in the Acura NSX GT3 operated by Racers Edge Motorsports. Hagler is in fact part of the Honda Performance Development program.
Coming from two podium finishes at Watkins Glen – and four consecutive podiums in the series – Taylor Hagler was faced with a new track to learn at Lime Rock Park.
“It has been a while since I have visited a track I had never been to before, but it is a great opportunity to test myself as a driver,” said Hagler before the race meeting.
“Michael [Lewis] and I have had a great season so far and with a well prepared car like BHA provides, we will be fighting for a win this weekend." – she added. "I don’t think I have ever had a lap time under one minute. It doesn’t seem like much, but when everything is based on lap times and speed, it will be an exciting moment in my career. We are in the TCR class championship lead and our goal is to continue pushing ourselves to keep the No. 77 BHA Hyundai Veloster N TCR at the top.”
On Friday, Hagler battled the hot and humid conditions – as well as the 35-car traffic – to qualify in seventh place, her best qualifying effort so far, with a time of 55.059 seconds. Following a post-session penalty, she was moved up to sixth.
“The car was perfect,” she commented. “Unfortunately, I hit traffic late in the session, but I’m very happy with the car and where we’ll start. The plan will be to stay out of trouble early – without the split start between classes, it could be hairy.”
Indeed, there was early drama in the 2-hour race with several incidents in the opening laps. Hagler was tagged by another competitor in the hectic first lap, but luckily didn't report significant damages. After two Full Course Yellow, the driver of the #77 Hyundai had moved up into fourth place in the TCR category.
Once the race settled and the racing resumed, Taylor's pace was on par with the class front runners and she managed traffic with care yet posting consistent laps. Tyre management also came into the picture – and Hagler didn't put a foot wrong.
At the third caution of the day, on lap 31, Hagler pitted for fuel, new tyres and handed over to Michael Lewis.
“The start was a big, jumbled mess” – recalled Hagler. “I wasn’t packed up at the start but since everyone piled into Turn One, that didn’t affect me that much."
"I just kept my head down and tried to stay out of trouble – and traffic. The most important thing was to run consistent lap times and bring the car to Michael in one piece and in good position. In races like this, where it’s so hot and the track is so small, hitting your marks is key. The more consistent you are during the race, the more consistent your podium finishes are – and that helps win championships.”
Lewis continued to make his way up the order and the team opted for a two-stop strategy in order to send Lewis out on new tyres for a sprint final stint.
It was a close call, but the strategy worked: he would take the lead with 6 minutes left on the clock, to win their first race of the season by a 0.134 second margin.
Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler thus edged Tim Lewis and his co-driver Roy Block in the #5 KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo Giulietta – for the team and brand's maiden podium.
The pole sitting #27 Copeland Motorsports Hyundai Veloster N TCR of Tyler Mason and Tyler Gonzalez crossed the finish line in third.
“I’m overwhelmed” – said Taylor Hagler after the chequered flag.
“It was super stressful watching at the end! This is my first win in a professional series and so it means so much. Bryan Herta Autosport has been wonderful, the Hyundai Veloster N TCR has been an amazing car to drive and Michael has been the co-driver of all co-drivers to help me get this first win of my professional career."
"It’s been a long time coming and we’ve worked so hard for this – extending the lead on the championship is a bonus!”
“Taylor did such a great job today, getting the car into fourth position." – echoed co-driver Michael Lewis. "She was fast and kept her nose clean, handing the car to me like a true pro. That’s what you want, both drivers up in front the entire time."
On the other hand, it was a tough weekend for Sheena Monk in the JG Wentworth McLaren GT4. A red flag relegated Monk to a start from P13. She was among the drivers going wide at Turn 1 as she attempted to make up for the lost positions, but fell victim to the marbles and went on the grass. The impact with the tyre barrier damaged the radiator and she unfortunately had to retire.
Monk and Pigot slipped down to fifth in the GS-class championship standings, while the TCR victory means that Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis could extend their lead to a 250-point advantage over Atlanta Speedwerks' driver Ryan Eversley.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season will resume on August 7 at another historic North American racetrack: Road America, with now four rounds to go.