Taylor Hagler crowned IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR Champion
Taylor Hagler made history and became the first woman champion in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Road Atlanta. With a stunningly dominant season, Hagler and teammate Michael Lewis were consistent podium finishers throughout the year.
After a stunning season in both TCR and GT3 machinery, Taylor Hagler became the first ever Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR champion - and the second female champion in the history of IMSA.
Even though Hagler and her teammate Michael Lewis just needed to finish the race to mathematically be crowned, it wasn't as easy as predicted, with some dramatic last laps that spiced up the race.
The driver of the No. 77 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N TCR came into the final race leading the championship with 230 points on the tally, aiming to become the first ever woman to secure an IMSA TCR title and to join Christina Nielsen in the IMSA hall of fame. The Danish racer was in fact the first woman to win a championship in the premier American sportscar series (2016, 2017).
“The end of the season is bittersweet but also an exciting time,” said Taylor Hagler. “The entire Bryan Herta Autosport team, Michael (Lewis) and I have worked hard for months on end to get to this moment. We still have a race ahead that is our first goal of the weekend. Road Atlanta has always been good to me and such a fun track to drive so I am looking forward to getting on track.”
Ryan Norman and Parker Chase were the fastest in qualifying, as Hyundai cars locked out four out of five places in the Top-5. Norman claimed pole position ahead of the sister car of Harry Gottsacker, in an all-Bryan Herta Autosports front row for the final race of the season.
Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis started from P12 in the Road Atlanta final showdown of the 2021 season, as a support event of the Motul Petit Le Mans. Throughout the whole season, the pair only failed to finish on the podium twice.
It was the #98 car of Norman/Chase who led the two-hour race into the first turn and pulled away from the #27 of Tyler Gonzalez. The latter had leap-frogged Gottsacker at the start. But Norman made a mistake when he tried to pass the #71 Rebel Rock Racing Camaro and sent it into the gravel - despite retaining the lead and avoiding penalties.
Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler managed to recover from 12th to 5th until the first round of pit stops - and stormed to second when another full course caution bunched up the field again.
In the latter part of the race, the #5 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce set the pace and took their second victory of the season, ahead of the Atlanta Speedwerks duo of Stone and Eversley, with Copeland Motorsports (T. Maxson/T. Gonzalez) claiming third.
For Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis, a 5th place in the final race of the season was enough to seal the 2021 IMSA TCR championship. Taylor Hagler wrote history: with 2870 points, she preceded Chase (2660) and Block/T. Lewis (2600) in the class standings.
“Wow, to be the IMSA TCR champion is unbelievable,” said Taylor after the historic achievement. “We would have liked to finish the year on the podium, but it still is an amazing feat to accomplish everything we did this year. Thank you to Hyundai, Bryan Herta, and my entire crew at BHA for making this possible.”
It was a stunning year for Hagler, with three consecutive podium results at Sebring International Raceway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Watkins Glen International - to be added to the first win at Lime Rock Park in July.
“Winning at Lime Rock Park was a highlight of my season,” she continued. “While standing on the podium is always an accomplishment, winning is a whole different beast."
"Being able to get my first IMSA win with Bryan Herta Autosport and the help of Michael (Lewis) is something I will never forget. It was a turning point in the year where I knew we had what it took to win a championship.”
Hagler - a HPD graduate - has also made headlines in 2021 after an equally remarkable debut season in GT3 in the SRO-sanctioned GT World Challenge America, where she finished eight times on the podium and took three victories in the Pro-Am class.
And we are indeed likely to see Hagler again busy on a double program in 2022, as she is set to enter the IMSA season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January, after the well deserved winter break.