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Taylor Hagler: "We go on with a clean slate"

Taylor Hagler's inspiring journey in motor racing is the story of how a first generation racer tiptoed her way in North America's top sports car championships and, in just five years, broke-down barriers to claim back-to-back titles in IMPC.

Photo credits: Sideline Sports Photography

Winning two IMSA titles is no small achievement or something that happens every day. Such accomplishments can be the crowning of a racing career, or the start of something extraordinary. Taylor Hagler, 27-year-old from Texas, will soon enter a new season in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge as a two-time defending champion, after back-to-back TCR titles in 2021 and 2022. She is only the second woman to reach such a goal, after Christina Nielsen in the GTD class in 2016 and 2017. "Oh my God I did do that, it feels nice", she says, almost surprised by herself when introduced. "But It's not really something that sticks with me." There's never ego leaking from her words, as she comes off as extremely humble and keeps acknowledging her team and teammate as big factors in her successes. Her quick rise up the ranks of motor racing has been a brilliant journey to follow, from club racing to the IMSA and SRO platforms – the top sports cars competitions in North America – in around five years. Even more impressive for a first generation racer. "I'm actually not from a racing family; my dad has always been interested in racing and has always watched racing, but I'm a first gen racer" – she explains, coming back to the roots of her passion for the sport. "He had always taken me to races and I grew up watching with him. So it's always been an interest of mine." She then made the next step, by attending the Skip Barber Racing School at 19 years of age. "I really enjoyed it, and met the right people on the way" – she continues. From there, things started to fall into place, while her career continued to grow in an organic, natural progression.

"There wasn't a moment when I was like 'I want to do this for the rest of my life', career-wise", Hagler recalls. "It kind of just happened. I did a season of club racing and I really enjoyed it, but I thought of it as a hobby – and then someone I met there wanted to do TCA in 2019, so I went ahead and did that."

In her first season in the SRO TC America championship, Hagler scored two podiums in the TCA class and was fifth in the drivers' standings. "But it still didn't feel like a career-path for me, it was kinda something that just...happened."

Photo credits: Sideline Sports Photography / Rick Houghton

While she was learning quickly behind the wheel, there was something that Taylor was already used to – and which likely made the difference in her learning process: handling pressure. Hagler had in fact competed in equestrian jumping, and reckons the two sports have more in common than one may think.

"I showed horses for 12 years of my life, so it was really the only sport that I knew, but transitioning over really wasn't that difficult", she says, mentioning how the mental factor, dealing with the pressure and the busy schedules felt familiar.

"That's something that I dealt with when I was showing horses and I have transferred very well into racing. Also, among the similarities between show jumping and racing is that you look where you want to go – that's another big thing that was pretty easy to transfer."

In the highly competitive environment of IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, Hagler certainly proved to be a quick and reliable racer, taking her first win in 2021 at Lime Rock Park and, with 6 podiums to her name, she claimed the historic first title at her first year with top team Bryan Herta Autosport.

Photo credits: Sideline Sports Photography

"I was pretty quick up the ranks, I was very fortunate" – Taylor recalls. "Bryan Herta and Hyundai wanted me to be a part of their team – and they're a big part of pretty much all the podiums. The car is great and Micheal Lewis himself is just an absolute beast. I think without him I don't know if I would have done as well – and without Hyundai we wouldn't have done as well." The very talented teammate Michael Lewis, the team's strategy calls, a very reliable car certainly played an important role, but Hagler herself proved to possess the traits of true champions: making the most out of the car in every circumstance and bringing it home safely, scoring big points at each round that eventually resulted in back-to-back championships. Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis became the first drivers to defend the title in IMSA Pilot Challenge. Her 2022 season included seven more podium finishes and one more win, at VIRginia International Raceway, which put the drivers of the #1 Hyundai in the best position for the season finale at Road Atlanta. The title showdown revealed to be more tense than expected, as Hagler had to overcome all sorts of drama in the opening stint before finally recovering to third – thus securing the 2022 crown.

Photo credits: Michael L. Levitt

"There was a bit more emotion out of me, but I guess it was one of those things I almost forgot about it", Hagler confesses. "It was so overwhelming in the moment; so emotional and so great but also one of those things fades." "It's not something that sticks with me because once it happens, after a couple of weeks I move on and start the preparation for the next season." "At the end of the day I now matched Christina Nielsen for two IMSA titles, and Michael has become the first three-time champion in TCR. So to be able to do that – for me and for him – was really great. But we both have the same mindset, once that's done we really start preparing for the next season. It's like the season prior never happened, and we go on with a clean slate."

At the launch of the TCR World Ranking – which ranks the performance of over 900 drivers – Taylor Hagler is the highest placed woman, currently 26th and having been as high as 15th. But alongside touring cars, Hagler also highly impressed in her equally-rapid climb up the ladder in GT3 machinery: in her rookie season in GT World Challenge America, she claimed three class wins and eight podiums at the helm of the Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo. "The GT3 car is really great actually, I personally quite enjoy it", she says. "The NSX is an amazing car, and the team I was with and the co-drivers were so great." Formerly part of the HPD program, Taylor shared the car with fellow HPD drivers Jacob Abel and Dakota Dickerson. "We already had that relationship, so it made 2021 just a little bit easier", she continues. "It was busy, but I was enough in the car and it was a lot of fun. Sadly we couldn't come away with the championship, but we were really close." Hagler eventually finished runner up in ProAm, and was named Rookie of the Year. While in 2022 she focused on her IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge program, she returned in the driving seat of a GT3 Acura for the 8 Hours of Indianapolis, final round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, where she teamed up with Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper.

"It was great to get back in the NSX for the Indy 8 Hours with Erin and Michael; it was almost like riding a bike – got back in and didn't have any issues. It took me like a 20 minute session to reacclimate to a rear-wheel drive and a car with aero, and after that I was pretty on pace. The car was really good, we had a good setup on it."

Photo credits: MotorSportMedia / Halston Pitman

Last year's 8H of Indy wasn't the first time Hagler had shared a car with a fellow talented female driver, as she had previously contested a round of the World Racing League in an all-female crew. Representing women in motorsport is in fact something that Taylor says it's growing on her.

"I would classify myself as being an ambassador for women in racing, it's something that just comes with it", she explains, having also been part of a Hyundai campaign called Journeys, where world-renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz portrayed the racer as one of the barrier-breaking figures that inspire the car manufacturer. On her record-breaking journey in motor racing, Hagler has certainly inspired many people along the way. "It's something that it's growing on me, but honestly one of the things that I love the most is that I'm not an inspiring figure just to other female racers", she stresses, "I have had many men come up to me and for example ask how they could get in the sport without a karting background. I am one of the few drivers that have been able to make that happen, so I think being an inspiration not only to other female drivers that want to get in, but really any driver." And it's particularly in sports cars that in the last couple of years female drivers are really proving to belong to the competitive elite once properly supported. Iron Dames, now making their North American debut at Daytona, are just one example – with more programs and all-female teams steadily growing their presence across championships. Hagler herself says she wouldn't mind being part of more similar projects in the future.

"I'd love to be a part of something like that [Iron Dames] – it would be absolutely amazing. And I think there will be a lot more all-women teams that are trying to come out. I'd love to be part of any other initiatives like that, any other teams that would put something together and bring more women into motorsport." "Just meeting all the other women in racing and making those friendships and those relationships it's kinda something that comes with it, but also something that you don't want to miss out on."

Photo credits: Sideline Sports Photography

But so far, the young Texan is fully focused on her next challenge – defending the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge title, for the third time. Entering the 2023 season in the #1 Hyundai Elantra N TCR, Hagler and Lewis have been building up speed in the ROAR weekend and are confident they keep the momentum, showcasing again her proverbial consistency which she considers as her biggest strength.

"As you say, it really is my biggest strength, it's something that works for us", she says. "I'm pretty clean on the track and always try to bring the car home to Michael so he can do his magic. Definitely consistency has been the biggest strength through the last two years."

"I would love to qualify better – qualifying has on the other hand never been my strength. It usually takes me a few laps to get up to pace, so that's something we've been working on. Over the last few years I've been getting better – in 2022 I was definitely better than in 2021, so hopefully this year I'll be even better!" Clocking an over-three second faster lap time compared to her first year in the series in 2020, Taylor Hagler's sixth season in professional motorsport will start from a clean slate at Daytona. Yet, it will be another important chapter of her young but already history-making career, started as a hobby and developed into something more. "I don't think I would change anything [in my career] – at the end of the day we all have something we wish we would've done differently, but all the things we did do growing up or leading up to where we are now, are what got us where we are now."

"A part of me wishes I would have done karting instead of getting into horseback riding, but there's also a chance I would have hated karting and never got in a race car at all! Sometimes things need to work out how they work out." The four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener at Daytona International Speedway is set to go underway on Friday 27th January at 13:40 ET.

Photo credits: Sideline Sports Photography



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