Taylor Hagler completes 2023 IMSA season at Road Atlanta
After a great stint in the rain, Taylor Hagler was on course to complete her 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season on a high with a top five at Road Atlanta, but a last lap mechanical failure dropped her down to eighth - rounding out an unfortunate campaign for the two-time series champion.
A busy racing season come to a close for Taylor Hagler, whose final round of the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge saw an unfortunate end following an otherwise very competitive performance - almost in a summary of her whole season, as the two-time champion faced a series of misfortunes that resulted in a sixth place finish in the championship standings.
The 2023 IMSA Pilot Challenge entered its season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, in support of the Motul Petit Le Mans event. The track held strong memories for Hagler, as its the venue that saw the young Texan driver first tested at professional level at the beginning of her career in 2018. That test with former teammate Ryan Eversley would reveal crucial in the development of her sports car career in the following years.
"The season is coming to an end and this year pushed me as a driver", Hagler commented before the event. "Road Atlanta is a special place to me and the start of my career. I am looking forward to getting back and capping the 2023 season off on a high note."
Taylor would share the wheel of the #1 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR with Bryson Morris - as an injury resulting from a contact at the previous round at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ruled out Hagler's full-season teammate Micheal Lewis, who is recovering from the accident.
The two drivers, though, were soon competitive and Morris entered qualifying with high hopes: he set the fifth fastest time in the session, putting the #1 Hyundai on the third row of the TCR field for Friday's two hour Fox Factory 120 race.
Having contested qualifying, Morris was behind the wheel for the opening stint as well - and had a sterling start at the green flag, in a rather chaotic getaway for the TCR entries.
There was in fact immediately drama as the pole sitting #17 Unitronic JDC Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 had an issue and could not accelerate away; Mason Filippi took over the lead, followed by Harry Gottsacker and Bryson Morris - in a BHA 1-2-3, just before the caution was deployed. After a short yellow, Morris fought with the Van der Steur Hyundai of Ortiz at the restart, as the latter had great pace and soon tried to attack Gottsacker for second.
The race, though, was back under yellow when Altzman's McCumbee McAleer Mustang went off - and a further contact saw Kenny Murillo dropping down the order in the GS class.
Morris pitted from fourth on lap 10 and emerged back in seventh place, which became fifth at the restart, after several TCR cars used the second caution as a chance to pit.
The action was again short lived, as the #39 Carbahn BMW went off at turn 10 and the race was back underway with only 1h and 13 minutes to go, with the pit window opening straight away. Bryan Morris stayed out and held fifth place, as TCR cars climbed the overall order during the GS round of pit stops: Morris picked up another position and chased the sister car of Gottsacker, after Ortiz had grabbed second.
The leaders in fact pitted with 50 minutes to go; Morris went longer and took the lead on lap 37, one lap before he handed over to Taylor Hagler.
Just as the pit window was closing, the full course yellow was deployed - leaving out the #70 Deily Motorsports Hyundai, who moved into the lead but remained the only TCR car not to have pitted before the window closed.
The caution shuffled the field and Mark Wilkins led Taylor Hagler once the green flag waved again with 30 minutes to go. Hagler battled at the top of the TCR field but dropped to sixth at the restart. Taylor found her rhythm and followed BHA teammate Robert Wickens, one second clear of Tyler Gonzalez, when light rain started to fall.
In challenging grip conditions, Hagler's pace was very competitive - and she started to close in on Wickens once the rain got heavier. Hagler gained three seconds to the sister car - but also had to defend from the fast charging Victor Gonzalez Racing's Hyundai Elantra.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season ended under yellow flag once the #77 BMW hit the wall with 7 minutes to go; Mark Wilkins crossed the line as the TCR winner, preceding Tyler Maxson and Ryan Eversley. Matt Pombo in fact lost third place after a technical issue with two minutes to go behind the safety car. Fourth across the line, Robert Wickens was crowned class champion.
After a very strong run in the wet, Taylor Hagler was set to score a highly positive top five, when a technical issue on the final lap dropped her to eighth place. It was a very unfortunate end to Hagler's otherwise strong stint - further highlighting her unlucky campaign. Taylor scored 2410 points and finished sixth in the championship standings.
“This season was tough", she commented. "We had moments that challenged our entire No. 1 Bryan Herta Autosport team in ways that required us to adapt in new ways. The entire team and Hyundai have worked so hard for us this year and I am happy that they were able to keep the Championship trophy in house and with Robert [Wickens] and Harry [Gottsacker] Congratulations to the team for their Championship win!”
2023 has been both a mentally and physically testing year for Hagler, who has competed in a double racing programme Stateside as well as in Europe, in the highly-competitive GT4 European Championship. While she couldn't repeat the 2021 and 2022 championship-winning runs in the TCR class of IMSA, her progression up the ranks of international sports car racing clearly proved that Hagler is on a positive trend.
She is set to return to Bryan Herta Autosport for the 2024 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season in January.