Taylor Hagler's charge ends with P7 at Lime Rock Park
Taylor Hagler was the protagonist of a brilliant charge in the final stint of the Lime Rock Park IMSA Pilot Challenge TCR-only event, but a contact from another competitor in the final minutes resulted in a seventh place finish.
From GT4 European Championship to IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge: Taylor Hagler's 2023 season is an extremely busy and competitive one, as weekend after weekend the young Texan crosses the Atlantic taking on some of the biggest competition in sports car racing.
Hagler, a two time TCR champion, proved to belong to the competitive elite in the IMSA championship - as well as in SRO America, where she became ProAm vice-champion in her rookie season in GT3 machinery in 2021. In 2023, Hagler made a further step, tackling the Green Hell for the first time, in a heroic run at the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring. From then on, Taylor has been exploring opportunities in Europe and joined the continental GT4 series - one of the world's most competitive GT series. In only three rounds, Hagler climbed the order to secure her first ProAm top five.
Just one week later, Hagler was back behind the wheel of her #1 Hyundai Elantra TCR machine operated by Bryan Herta Autosport for the seventh round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge: Lime Rock Park hosted in fact a TCR event only for the first time ever.
While the Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic at the Detroit Street Circuit featured the GS class only, the 1.5-mile circuit located in Connecticut saw a fierce battle among the 14 TCR entries.
Hagler and teammate Michael Lewis made their return to the track where they had scored their first race win as teammates: “I’m looking forward to Lime Rock as it’s a place we have had success before and captured a win in 2021", Taylor commented before the race meeting. "We have had pace all season, but the finishes haven't been coming our way. It would be great to get a podium and turn our season around at the midway point.”
The drivers of the #1 Hyundai were in fact straight on pace, setting the second fastest time in FP1, with a 53.944 lap time less than two tenths from the leading team. Hagler/Lewis confirmed the trend in FP2 with third on the leaderboard - this time barely a tenth off.
For the first time, the BHA crew switched strategy and sent out Michael Lewis in qualifying: in another extremely tight session, Lewis qualified in P5 for the 1 hour and 40 minute race on Saturday afternoon.
Matt Pombo (LA Honda World Racing) took the start of the race from pole position for the fifth time this year; when the lights went out, he retained the lead ahead of Wilkins and Ortiz, with Michael Lewis moving up to fourth at the start. Further behind, the #10 Rockwell Autosport Audi of Brown spun at turn 1 but could rejoin unscathed.
Wilkins tried to challenge Pombo and put pressure on the Honda driver, also allowing the Van der Steur Racing Hyundai of Bryan Ortiz to close in. Michael Lewis settled in fourth place with consistent pace, until Ortiz dropped down the order, promoting the #1 BHA Hyundai to third, less than 10 seconds off the leader almost 30 minutes into the race.
The #70 Deily Motorsports Hyundai lost a wheel and stopped off the track, with the race remaining green.
Lewis lost third to the sister car of Robert Wickens - just as the round of pit stops started following the driver change of the #17 Unitronic Audi.
Once ahead of Michael Lewis, Wickens closed the gap to the leading duo, as Pombo lost the lead to Wilkins before pitting with 55 minutes to go.
Lewis' stint went longer and he could take over the lead during the pit cycle; he would dive into pitlane on lap 55, when Taylor Hagler took control of the #1 Hyundai Elantra TCR and rejoined in seventh after a 4 tyre change. The high tyre degradation was in fact playing a crucial role throughout the first stint.
Behind the wheel of the #37 LA Honda World, Ryan Eversley claimed the lead after the pit stops, followed by the BHA Hyundais driven by Mason Filippi and Harry Gottsacker.
Hagler gained a position over the #90 Van Der Steur Hyundai Veloster; she ran very competitively with a strong first sector and logged laps in sixth place - albeit a lap down after the stop. On lap 74, Tim Lewis (KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo Giulietta) found a way past Hagler, who then held seventh place. In the final 20 minutes of the race, Taylor's pace remained very consistent and at times as fast as the race leader.
Eversley, meanwhile, had his mirrors full of the #98 BHA Hyundai of Mason Filippi, who eventually completed a clean pass at turn 1 on lap 93 to take the lead with 10 minutes to go.
As tyre degradation increased, Hagler closed in on Tim Lewis - and grabbed sixth once the #17 Unitronic Audi had to pit for fuel. Almost a second a lap quicker, Hagler continued her chase for fifth place. Having gained over 7 seconds, the two-time champion overtook the Alfa with 6 minutes to go.
Having looked after her tyres, Hagler was one of the fastest drivers on track and tried to get back on the lead lap; with 4 laps to go, she was unfortunately hit by Van der Steur, whose overly optimistic move ended up turning Hagler's Hyundai around. While she could rejoin the race, Taylor eventually crossed the finish line in seventh place, after recovering one more position on the final lap.
Despite being hit in the closing minutes, Taylor Hagler had been the protagonist of a brilliant charge in her stint and while the end result wasn't the podium she had targeted, she can be satisfied by her pace - in her first time as the driver elected to finish the race. The reigning champions are now seventh in the championship standings; while misfortunes prevented them from capitalizing on their pace through most of the season, hopes are high for the remaining four rounds on the calendar: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will in fact return at Road America on August 4-6 for its eighth round.