Taylor Hagler claims third top-five of the season at Laguna Seca
Consistency is paying off for Michelin Pilot Challenge reigning champion Taylor Hagler, who secured her third top-five of the season at Laguna Seca and retained the TCR class championship lead.
Consistency is paying dividends for TCR-class IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge reigning champions Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis, who completed the third round of the 2022 season with yet another top-five finish. The series' visit at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was an important appointment for the Hyundai brand, main sponsor of the event that represented an opportunity for Hyundai owners to gain exclusive access. Hagler returns to the championship after an outstanding 2021 which saw the Texan racer securing the TCR class title - as well as making her GT3 debut in the GT World Challenge America with ProAm wins and a second place in the drivers' standings. At the wheel of the #1 Hyundai Elantra N TCR operated by Bryan Herta Autosport, Hagler is now focusing her efforts on Michelin Pilot Challenge once again and started off the season with two second places at Daytona and Sebring, entering Saturday's event at Laguna Seca in the championship lead. “Michael [Lewis] and I had a great run there last year and we’ve had a great start to the season, so I want to keep building on that." - commented Hagler. "The track changes a lot with the conditions, so it can be a bit of a challenge, but there isn’t any place like it and I’m looking forward to going back.” Taking the start of the 2-hour race on Saturday afternoon, Taylor Hagler had to navigate through traffic to make up positions after starting from the fourth row of the grid, in eighth position in class. TCR pole position went to the sister car of Chase/Gottsacker, with a time of 1:32.754, ahead of the JDC Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS SEQ of Miller/Taylor. In the overall standings, Koch/Foss had put the #56 Murillo Racing's Mercedes AMG GT4 on pole, but the race would ultimately be decided by strategy calls during the four Full Course Yellow neutralizations and late drama in the TCR class. Hagler kept it clean and consistent, crucially surviving the hectic first stages marked by several contacts on the crowded track. Despite some side-to-side contact in the first minutes, Hagler kept moving up the order before handing over to her teammate Michael Lewis midway through the race. "We had a lot of contact from start to finish with that stint, but there isn't anything you can do about it, you just have to drive through it" - said Hagler after her stint. "We had a little bit of an alignment issue, but we can, as race car drivers, we have to just handle what we are given. But these Hyundais are built so well that we still had pace today. We had a lot of good battles out there. Michael is a beast, and he can deal with it.” During the first half of the race, a series of Full Course Yellows interrupted the action; having started from ninth on the GS class field, the Volt Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 of Alan Brynjolfsson made great progress by gambling on strategy and staying out while the others pitted during caution. Brynjolfsson was able to move into second place before the driver change, when Trent Hindman got behind the wheel, rejoining in the overall lead. The Volt Racing squad was able to hold off the late charge by Bill Auberlen in the #95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, after the latter was forced to a splash and dash that would drop him down the order. Brynjolfsson/Hindman took victory ahead of McAleer/Premat in the #28 RS1 Porsche 718 GT4 and the Riley Motorsports Toyota Supra GT4 of Najri/Camilo. The race in TCR went down the line, as a late penalty for the #61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS 3 LMS TCR of Ernstone/Morley served a penalty with five minutes left on the clock for causing a contact with the BHA Hyundai of Ryan Norman. Long-time second-placed Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi retired with 20 minutes to go for technical issues, leaving the KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Block/Lewis in the lead of the race. Roy Block crossed the finish line for his team's second win of the season, while behind him, the #15 Audi of Denis Dupont overtook Tyler Gonzalez at the chequered flag for the runner-up spot. With a strong second half of the race, Michael Lewis secured fifth place for the #1 Bryan Herta Autosport crew, completing a recovery from eighth and securing the third top-five of the season for the reigning champions. “It was a pretty intense fight to the finish but I’m happy that we were able to come home fifth after so many yellows and restarts” - explained Hagler after yet another important result. “It was great to meet so many Hyundai owners this weekend and I’m looking forward to racing again in just two weeks at Mid-Ohio.” Despite the challenges, Hagler and Lewis retained the class championship lead by 30 points over the Block/Lewis duo. They will now look to the fourth round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in two weeks' time, where they will try to keep momentum and further extend their points lead. Last year, Hagler had a strong run at Mid Ohio, where she finished second.