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Taylor Hagler kicks off 2024 IMPC season with P8 at Daytona

"We had the car and the strategy to have a great result, but we never had the chance to show it." - Taylor Hagler kicked off her fifth season of professional motor racing with a top ten at Daytona, having recovered from the back of the field to P8 after being hit by a competitor in the early stages of the race.

Taylor Hagler, Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai, IMSA Michlein Pilot Challenge 2024, Daytona
Photo credits: Jake Galstad

After two stellar seasons in Michelin Pilot Challenge, Taylor Hagler became the first ever woman to win the series back to back, establishing herself as one of the top female talents in touring cars. In 2023, Hagler had the potential to continue the trend - but a highly unfortunate season resulted in a sixth place in the championship standings, having secured three top-5s and ten top-10s out of 10 rounds.

At the same time, Hagler made her European racing debut and had a highly promising part-time campaign in GT4 Europe, where she made huge progress in one of the most competitive GT4 series globally.

In 2024, the young Texan is again eying to battle at the top-end of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR category, as she returns behind the wheel of the Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR - this time with a new teammate: alongside Hagler in her fifth season of professional racing there will be in fact 19-year-old Bryson Morris, at his first full-year of TCR competitions following a one-off at Road Atlanta in 2022.

As per series' tradition, the four hour race at Daytona International Speedway kicked off the season - and Hagler was looking forward to topping her second place finish from 2022 - one of her 17 career podiums.

"It is finally time to get back to racing and I am looking forward to what this season can bring", Hagler said before the event. "We start the year with a fresh slate with the opportunity to start strong here at Daytona International Speedway. I am looking forward to working with Bryson [Morris] and welcome him to the #77 BHA Hyundai." 

The 45-car field, which includes both the GT4-based GS category and the TCR class, had the opportunity to get up to speed in the pre-event test of the ROAR Before the 24, where Hagler and Morris worked on the car's setup and built speed over the week - also finishing second in one of the sessions.

"The ROAR weekend went well and we have a good feel of how the #77 BHA Hyundai is handling", said Hagler. "Luckily we are familiar with this platform and know how good the Hyundai Elantra N TCR can be at Daytona. With a four-hour endurance race, it comes down to strategy and keeping the car clean until the end. We know what we need to do and Bryson and I will work together to do just that" - Taylor summarized ahead of the first championship round.

On Thursday, Hagler qualified the #77 machine and was eleventh fastest, having set a 1:59.067 that still put the BHA duo in a good position for a long race such as the BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona, where consistency and keeping the car clean through the critical first stages would be paramount.

Hagler took the start on Friday and she had a brilliant getaway as the 2024 season got underway: she took the inside line at turn 1 and managed to gain ninth place in TCR.

Taylor Hagler, Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai, IMSA Michlein Pilot Challenge 2024, Daytona
Photo courtesy: PG Communications

BHA's teammate Gottsacker retained the lead from pole position, but he would then drop to fourth as Gou made the move for the lead at the Le Mans chicane, followed by Wittmer and Santero. Gou’s getaway wasn’t long-lived, as the #55 Audi broke down from the lead and pulled off to the side of the track on lap 6. The race remained green and Hagler settled in tenth, three seconds behind Gonzalez and three seconds ahead of Brown’s sister BHA Hyundai.

A broken steering arm for the overall pole-sitting GS car brought out the first yellow almost at the 30 minute mark; the TCR field pitted and Hagler remained behind the wheel. At the end of the round of pit stops, she had gained several places, slotting into sixth in class.

The two Montreal Motorsport Hondas of Montour and Wittmer had stayed out and therefore claimed the lead in TCR.

At the restart, Hagler was running among the front runners and, while she took no unnecessary risks, she was hit by the #5 KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The contact unfortunately caused a tyre puncture to Hagler's Hyundai Elantra N TCR, and she had to limp back to the pits for repairs. Taylor could eventually rejoin the race, albeit in P15 and two laps down.

Nevertheless, Taylor’s lap times continued to be competitive and, over a minute and a half behind the #70 Deily Hyundai, she gained two more places as Reynolds and Gilsinger also hit trouble. With steady pace, she picked up another place and moved into P11 with 2 hours and 40 minutes to go. She then passed the #70 Deily Motorsport Hyundai - now with Wisely behind the wheel - and made it back into the top ten.

After the second round of pit stops in TCR, the Road Shagger Racing Audi stayed out and extended its stint, while Gottsacker, Filippi and Miller - who had recovered from the back of the pack to fourth - remained behind the wheel following their stops. Ernstone, though, brought out the second full course yellow of the race when his #61 Audi came to a halt and then limped back to the pits, running short on fuel.

Taylor Hagler pitted as the pit road opened on lap 46 and handed over to Bryson Morris from P11 in class. Mason Filippi took over the lead, in a virtual BHA Hyundai 1-2-3 that saw Looijmans and Wickens just behind. Out of sequence and after an improper wave-by, Yoshihara (#93 Montreal Motorsport) led before being handed a 4 minute stop and go penalty.

The green flag waved again at the mid-race mark; it would be JDC Miller Motorsports Audi to snatch the lead and leapfrog the Hyundais; Morris capitalized on the #93 Honda's penalty and made his way back into the top ten.

An engine blow for reigning champion Robert Wickens with 1 hour and 40 minutes to go brought out the third full course yellow and the #33 Bryan Herta Autosport was joined on the list of troubled cars by the #99 VGR Hyundai. Bryson Morris pitted and rejoined in ninth place, as the whole TCR field cycled through the third round of pit stops.

The #70 Deily Motorsport Hyundai lost a tyre carcass and the incident postponed the restart by one lap: the green flag was back in the air on lap 69 and positions remained unchanged in the TCR category. While positions settled, a further full course yellow neutralized the action with one hour to go, when the #43 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW of Greg Liefooghe came to a halt on the back stretch. Morris completed the last pit stop of the race under yellow with 55 minutes to go and held ninth place.

Taylor Hagler, Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai, IMSA Michlein Pilot Challenge 2024, Daytona
Photo credits: Jake Galstad

Having recovered from the earlier issues, the #61 Road Shagger Racing Audi climbed the order once again and, having caught the class-leading JDC Miller Motorsports Audi, fought for the top spot before stopping for a second time short on fuel. With 35 minutes to go, Bryson Morris moved up to eighth.

Mikey Taylor's JDC Miller Audi took a controlled victory in TCR, preceding Denis Dupont and Mark Wilkins by 20 seconds. After the first hour accident, Bryson Morris and Taylor Hagler recovered masterfully from the back of the field to eighth in class to finish their first race of the season in the top-10.

“Today was a true challenge", Hagler explained. "We had the car and the strategy to have a great result, but we never had the chance to show it. The toughest days at the track are the ones when you aren’t in control."

The result matched Hagler and Morris' previous race as teammates - the 2022 season finale - but the potential shown at Daytona suggests that the BHA duo certainly have the speed to contest for podiums and victories.

"It is unfortunate that a mistake of a competitor took away that chance" - she continued. "The BHA team has learned and tested many things over the last 2 weeks and we can take those notes with us as we prepare for Sebring in March.”

The second round of the IMSA Pilot Challenge will be held at Sebring International Raceway on March 13-15.



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