With a flawless performance at Road America, Taylor Hagler claimed her first GT3 victory in GT World Challenge America, while a suspension issue denied the Texas-native of a second win on Sunday. Erin Vogel - winner of the previous round - had an unlucky weekend, marked by an unfortunate penalty while in the top5 and a contact with no fault of her own.
After an eleven-week break between the VIRginia Raceway round and last weekend's races at Road America, GT World Challenge America powered by AWS finally returned to the track for one of the most anticipated rounds of the season.
Road America at Elkhart Lake is in fact one of the most iconic racing venues in North America and its mix of fast and flowing bends makes it one of the drivers and fans' favourites on the calendar.
It certainly was a long wait for the drivers of the very competitive SRO-organized championship, who couldn't wait to get back behind the wheel of the stunning GT3 machines. Among them, two women are steadily making their way up the ranks of GT racing, in what has been so far a remarkable debut campaign for both: Erin Vogel stepped up from the GT4 America series, where she partnered current teammate Michael Cooper in 2020.
The move to the DXDT Mercedes AMG GT3 proved beneficial for Vogel, who has massively improved throughout the first part of the season, also thanks to a solid testing program with the team.
The previous round at VIRginia International Raceway was a historic one for Vogel - and indeed for the whole series - as she became the first ever woman to win a race in the series in GT3. The victory catapulted the Vogel-Cooper duo to third place in the Pro-Am championship.
"I think we're all excited to get back to racing after a few months off." - said Erin prior to the event. "The team has been working hard at the shop to go through the cars at this halfway point in the season to make sure they're all in top shape."
"Road America is another personal favorite, as much for the atmosphere the fans bring as for the track itself. I'm looking forward to a great weekend." - she added, after the team had completed a successful test at the track in early August.
Texas-native Taylor Hagler is also contesting her first full season in GT3 machinery, following notable results in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR class. Hagler, who is currently combining a double-program in IMSA - where she leads the TCR standings - and GT World Challenge, is also part of the HPD development program, which has provided valuable coaching to the young driver. Prior to Road America, she had secured three podium finishes.
“While it has been a while since our last race with the No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo, the team and I are ready for the weekend at Road America” - said Hagler, who shared the wheel with fellow HPD member Dakota Dickerson.
“We know we have the speed and ability to run at the front and we have the Acura platform that performs well on the long flowing corners that Road America has. Dakota [Dickerson] and I work great together and we have that first win of the season at the top of our list to accomplish."
Italian factory driver Andrea Caldarelli put the #3 KPAX Lamborghini on pole position for the first race of the weekend, followed by Russell Ward (#33 Winward Racing Mercedes).
Despite a difficult first day at Elkhart Lake - marked by adverse weather and red flags that translated in a shortened track time - Erin Vogel was able to qualify the #19 DXDT Mercedes in fifth among the Pro-Am field, in her best qualifying effort to date.
Also Taylor Hagler recorded her personal best qualifying and lined up on the front row of the class with with a lap of 2:09.874.
The race started behind the Safety Car due to an incorrect positioning of some cars on the grid and, once the green flag waved, Andrea Caldarelli was late in accelerating away in order not to give an advantage on the main straight to the fast BMW M6 GT3 or Michael Dinan, who was looking menacing in his wing mirrors. Caldarelli's strategy worked out and the Italian held the lead into Turn 1, followed by Ward and Dinan.
The #96 Turner Motorsport's BMW quickly attacked and passed the second placed Mercedes of Russell Ward after a few corners of exciting side-by-side action, but then struggled to catch up with Caldarelli and continued to be pressed by Ward.
Both Taylor Hagler and Erin Vogel maintained positions at the start - running in second and fifth in Pro-Am respectively, seventh and tenth overall.
In the first part of the race, Conrad Grunewald was protagonist of an impressive stint and, in his #61 AF Corse Ferrari, he could steadily run in fifth overall position - first in AM - at striking distance from Pro driver Giovanni Venturini in the #6 KPAX Lamborghini.
Vogel started to battle for overall position with the #10 TR3 Racing's Lamborghini of Bill Sweedler, but the duel was resolved in favor of the DXDT Racing driver once Sweedler's Huracan slowed down for a technical issue and pitted after a few laps of limping around the track.
The race settled down, with Andrea Caldarelli opening a 9 second gap in the overall lead ahead of Dinan and Ward, while Michael Di Meo ( #77 Compass Racing Acura) held the lead in Pro-Am, followed by Taylor Hagler. The latter started to chase down the class leader once they passed the AM Ferrari of Grunwald, before the pit window opened.
Andrea Caldarelli and Russell Ward pitted for the mandatory driver change and Michael Dinan opted to stay out to attempt an undercut for second place. Turner Motorsport's strategy, though, didn't work out: a slower pit stop would put Robby Foley even behind the #6 KPAX Lamborghini of Corey Lewis, who had taken over from Venturini.
After a stunning stint by Taylor Hagler, Dakota Dickerson rejoined in the Pro-Am lead, ahead of McMurry (#77 Compass Racing Acura) and Jan Heylen (#20 Wright Motorsport Porsche).
Erin Vogel pitted and handed over to Michael Cooper, who rejoined in ninth place overall, fourth in Pro-Am.
Despite the slower pit stop, the #96 BMW M6 GT3 driven by Robby Foley had better pace and soon overtook the green lambo of Corey Lewis for third overall. But there was drama when a drive through penalty was handed to both the #96 BMW of Dinan/Foley and the #19 Mercedes of Vogel/Cooper for a pit stop infraction: the cars were restarted while still on the jacks. Cooper served the penalty with 34 minutes to go and dropped down to seventh in class and 12th overall. It was just as costly for Foley, who dived into the pitlane one lap later and rejoined seventh overall - last of the Pro entries. The KPAX outfit, so dominant in some of the previous rounds, struggled a bit more with the #6 Huracan of Lewis; Dickerson saw the opportunity to move into an overall position and went for the move at Turn 5: Lewis tried to respond back, but the Racers Edge Motorsports' Acura advanced into third - despite holding safely the lead in Pro-Am. Phillip Ellis also had a strong pace towards the final stages of the race and significantly reduced the gap to the leading Lamborghini of Jordan Pepper. With 10 minutes to go, Ellis had caught up with Pepper, when the leading duo hit the traffic of the lapped cars. Held up by Jean-Claude Saada (#61 AF Corse Ferrari), Pepper found a way past the 488 GT3. Incredibly, Saada - who was comfortably leading the AM classify - fought back at the attacks of Ellis and the two made contact as they approached the Kink side-by-side. Having slid across the grass, the Ferrari spun into the inside wall at high speed, bringing out the Full Course Yellow ith 7 minutes to go. Saada was luckily unhurt, but the AF Corse Ferrari sustained significant damage. The race ended under caution, with Jordan Pepper and Andrea Caldarelli taking victory for KPAX Racing, ahead of Ellis/Ward in the #33 Winward Racing Mercedes. Third place overall - and, crucially, first place in Pro-Am - went to Dakota Dickerson and Taylor Hagler, who claimed her first SRO victory of her career. “Honestly, this was probably one of my best drives to date,” Hagler said at the end of a flawless race for the Racers Edge Motorsports duo. “We didn’t get a lot of practice with the rain and a red flag, so qualifying was like my practice." "Then, in the race, I just kept getting better and better. Having both of our coaches Ricky [Taylor] and Ryan [Eversley] here are a lot of help, and the team did a great job helping me get up to speed here." - she commented.
"I’ve never driven a GT3 car here before, but being able to follow the other Acura helped me get up to speed today. Then the team did an amazing job to put us in front. This has been a super-intense weekend, and I think Dakota [Dickerson] and I both had our best race of the season so far."
Acura scored a 1-2 in Pro-Am with Michael Di Meo and Matt McMurry in second, while Fred Poordad and Jan Heylen were third in class in the Wright Motorsports' Porsche.
Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper were seventh in class across the line, after the unfortunate penalty denied the DXDT racers a Top-5 in Race 1.
Strong of their first race win of the season, Hagler and Dickerson started the second race from the overall lead, after the former F3 Regional champion had secured pole position in the second qualifying session.
Michael Cooper also had a strong Q2 and started from fifth overall, third in class.
At the green flag, Dickerson held the lead from Jan Heylen and Robby Foley, while Michael Cooper had to take evasive action to avoid the Mercedes of Phillip Ellis almost spinning at Turn 2. Having started from sixth, Saturday's winner Jordan Pepper tried to recover positions at the start and ended up hitting the #19 Mercedes of Michael Cooper at Turn 6: Vogel's teammate went around and rejoined, but then had to pit with damages.
It was an incredibly disappointing development for Vogel/Cooper, who had saved sets of fresh tyres for Sunday's race. Nevertheless, the DXDT mechanics worked tirelessly to fix the front-right suspension damage and were able to send out Vogel again after 18 laps. In doing so, the team attempted to complete the 70% of the race distance, which would have granted them points - in addition to the always valuable track time.
Ahead, the top three checked out, with Dickerson, Heylen and Foley opening a gap on Ellis and the rest of the pack.
Corey Lewis (#6 KPAX Lamborghini) also had to make his way through the Pro-Am field and he would sneak ahead of McMurry after contact on lap 3. The sister car of Pepper, meanwhile, received a time penalty for the first lap contact and struggled to recover.
Drew Staveley had a good first stint in the #12 Aston Martin Vantage and moved into eighth place overall, fifth in Pro-Am.
Mid-way through the race, Jan Heylen remained the only driver able to challenge Dakota Dickerson, while Foley and Ellis were battling for third at a distance. Dickerson, though, held a safe 2-second margin once the pit window opened. Foley handed over to Dinan and , one lap later, Ward took over from Ellis. Jordan Pepper pitted as well, with Andrea Caldarelli getting back in the #3 KPAX Huracan after the 15 second time penalty.
On lap 23, the leaders stopped for their driver change: Dickerson handed over to Taylor Hagler, who rejoined in the overall lead, just ahead of Fred Poordad in the #20 Wright Motorsports' Porsche.
After the pit stops, the #33 Winward Racing Mercedes had jumped ahead of the Turner Motorsport BMW - with Russell Ward having also closed in on the leading duo.
Poordad lost second place to Ward, as the latter hunted down Hagler for the overall lead.
The young lady defended well, but the Winward Mercedes went by on lap 25 at Turn 3.
Taylor Hagler, though, kept leading Pro-Am and opened a gap on Poordad throughout her stint. Luck, unfortunately, wasn't on her side, as the #93 Acura slowed down with 20 minutes to go for a suspension failure, when Taylor was cruising towards her second class victory of the weekend. Once in the pitlane, the team retired the car.
"Not being able to fight to the finish after such a great run is disappointing," said Hagler. "The No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 was strong and the Racers Edge Motorsports team did a remarkable job all weekend. Dakota [Dickerson] kept us in a great position for me to take over." - she explained.
"I was pushing hard to the carousel, but a mechanical issue unfortunately ended our day. I will regroup, the team will regroup and we will be back stronger and ready to fight."
Russell Ward preceded Michael Dinan and Fred Poordad in the overall standings - the latter holding the lead in Pro-Am, when drama hit again the race leader: the Winward Mercedes had to pit again with 5 minutes to go for a quick refuelling, which dropped them to fifth overall and fourth in the Pro class.
After the unexpected development, the #96 Turner Motorsport's BMW driven by Michael Dinan moved into the lead, while Giovanni Venturini ultimately overtook Fred Poordad for second overall. The driver of the Wright Motorsport Porsche held on to third despite the pressure of Andrea Caldarelli and brought home a Pro-Am victory and an overall podium.
Martin Fuentes and Giacomo Altoè took second in Pro-Am, with DTXT Racing's David Askew and Ryan Dalziel finishing third in class and seventh overall.
Unfortunately, Erin Vogel could not complete the 70% of race distance and the #19 Mercedes was not classified.
"We came into our Road America weekend from a good test, but a test that we felt like we still had room to improve from." - summed up Vogel. "With the shortened practice day between weather and red flags during the race week, we didn't have as much opportunity before the racing started to do everything we wanted to do."
"But I think we made a pretty good showing in qualifying - some of our best qualifying results to this date. I think we really had the pace this weekend, it's just unfortunate we weren't able to capitalize on it."
"We had a penalty for a pit stop infraction on the first day and then had some incidents with other cars in race two." - she continued. "We tried to complete 70% of the race, didn't quite make it there; hoping to still get some points towards the championship from this weekend from race two. We did what we could and the team put in an awesome effort to try to get us out on track again and hopefully we'll bring all this momentum even stronger back to Watkins Glen later this month." "These guys soldiered on and put the car back together to get us out there and see if we could make the distance to get points and just came up a little short." - echoed Micheal Cooper. "Everyone at DXDT and Erin did a great job this weekend. So we're on to the next one." Three double-headers and one standalone event remain, as GT World Challenge America powered by AWS will now head to another iconic North American racetrack: Watkins Glen, on 17-19 September.