"We covered a lot of ground throughout the weekend" - Taylor Hagler makes GT4 Europe debut
At her first outing in GT4 and in the uber-competitive GT4 European Championship, two-time TCR champion Taylor Hagler is continuing her European journey with promising improvements; the American and her W&S Motorsport teammate barely missed out on a top-5 in a dramatic mixed-weather race 2.
Taylor Hagler successfully completed her first weekend in the highly competitive GT4 European Championship at Circuit Paul Ricard, where the two-time IMSA TCR champion made significant progress and gained many positions in her stint in race 2, eventually coming one lap short of a potential top five finish in class after a tyre gamble in mixed weather conditions. The Texan driver has been one of the protagonists of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, where she became the first female champion - and the first returning champion, alongside her teammate Michael Lewis at Bryan Herta Autosport. At the same time, Hagler contested her first season in GT3 machinery in 2021, adapting incredibly quickly to the Acura NSX GT3 and finishing runner-up in the ProAm class of GT World Challenge America, at her rookie season in GT racing. With her career on the rise in North America, Hagler has recently embarked in her European journey as well, as she completed the mighty 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in a Hyundai factory effort. She finished one of the toughest races on the planet second in class - also having taken part as preparation to several NLS races at the Nordschleife. After accomplishment, Taylor Hagler is now exploring more racing opportunities in Europe and joined W&S Motorsport for a part-time program in GT4 Europe, at the wheel of the #442 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport, alongside Gustavo Xavier. Hagler is in fact subbing in for Charles Dawson, who was injured in a qualifying crash at the Monza season opener. Her program includes races at Le Castellet, Spa Francorchamps - in conjunction with the 24 Hours of Spa - and Misano - and while it will be a learning campaign for Hagler, who travels for the very first time at these venues and in her very first GT4 outings. The whole weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard was therefore a learning process for the 27-year-old talent, who focused on improving each session she was out on the technical track.
In a 53 car field, Hagler and Xavier were 11th in ProAm in the first qualifying session, as Taylor's teammate got behind the wheel for the first stint of Saturday's race. Predictably, it was chaos in the first lap, with several contacts and a crash at the first chicane that brought out the safety car. In a blistering start, the #8 Toyota went from third to the overall lead, before the #83 Team Speedcar Audi and the #67 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi collided at turn 8, triggering the neutralization. The race restarted on lap 7; Potty held the overall lead in the #8 Toyota, ahead of Weyrich's Aston Martin and the Alpine of Cauhaupe. Eleventh in ProAm and P37 overall, Gustavo Xavier had a few positions to recover in order to catch up with the closest ProAm rival ahead - as the pit window approached. Xavier climbed up to P32 overall and, when the drivers in front started to pit, he went a couple of laps longer as he tried to create a gap. Taylor Hagler took over the #442 Porsche on lap 13, rejoining in P13 in class. Ahead, the #3 Speedcar Audi team miscalculated the pit window timing and pitted too late from the lead, while Lachenauer (#74 Aston) leapfrogged the #8 Toyota - now with Etienne Cheli behind the wheel. Consani would receive a 5 s penalty for pitting outside the pit window. With a 9 second gap to fourth-placed Lenerz, though, he got to keep third overall. Hagler initially kept P13 in class, then passed Jordan Grimaud in the 87 Armada Racing Mercedes for P12 on lap 23. Taylor continued to gain positions in the overall classification and hunting down Cyril Saleilles in the #14 Sainteloc Junior Team Audi; she would eventually grab eleventh on the final lap of the race - despite losing a drag race to the line with the #88 NM Racing Mercedes of Aleksandr Vaintrub by a tenth of a second. On the final lap, Consani and Cheli battled for the virtual second position - but Lachenauer had checked out and took victory in race 1 at Paul Ricard after a flawless second stint.
Under menacing skies , Sunday's race turned out to be a real thriller, filled with action and strategy gambles once the first raindrops fell - until a downpour shuffled the order. From pole position overall, Hofor Racing's Gabriele Piana lined up ahead of three Aston Martins: the #74 Racing Spirit of Leman, the #24 JSB Competition and the #5 Mirage Racing. Taylor Hagler was set to take the start of race 2, having qualified the #442 Porsche in P14 in ProAm and 46th overall. Hagler soon gained two positions and advanced to P12 in class after an overall clean start throughout the field - led after a perfect launch by GT4 ace Gabriele Piana in the #2 Hofor Racing BMW M4 GT4. The Texan young woman continued her progress with a solid first part of her stint: Hagler passed Nicolas Gomar, Jordan Grimaud and Romain Vozniak to move up to eighth after only four laps. One lap later, Hagler was also ahead of Cyril Saleilles, with the Sainteloc Junior Audi losing a couple of positions. Midway through her stint, Hagler settled in eighth place in class, running solid lap times. The pit window opened with 35 minutes to go; after a very positive first stint, Taylor Hagler stayed out a few more laps and then handed over to Gustavo Xavier on lap 14 from 7th in class. There was drama in the overall classification, as Victor Weyrich hit trouble in his outlap after taking over from the race leading Lachenauer. Hofor Racing's Schrey had therefore gained some crucial gap from Jamie Day in the #5 Aston Martin, now second overall. The sky was turning darker at every lap and the rain did eventually come: a few teams gambled for wet weather tyres as the rain intensified. Xavier opted to carry on and stayed out on dry tyres, while some teams stopped for a second time. While conditions were extremely tricky, the drivers on wets were initially not fast enough to catch back those who stayed out. Xavier was in fact back up to seventh - with a minute advantage over the #87 Armada Racing Mercedes. Up front, Antoine Potty (Xwift Racing Toyota) took over the lead from Michael Schrey, who was struggling in the wet conditions. However, the rain became a downpour with 10 minutes to go. Up to fifth, Xavier was now on a mission to keep it on track. In a dramatic finale, the #12 BMW - the first car on wets - was lapping over 20 seconds per lap faster, but had to recover over 20 positions. With one lap to go, Schrey and Potty fought for the lead - but the BMW was hit by a backmarker at Signes in the treacherous conditions. Potty took the most unbelievable race win of the season - with Besler eventually taking fourth and one lap away from a win on the wet weather tyre. Gustavo Xavier lost fifth in class on the final lap - and dropped all the way down to P10, having been caught by the drivers on the grooved tyre with a few corners to go. Nevertheless, a top ten in class and lots of good battles in the midfield were an important starting point for Hagler's first GT4 experience, as she climbed the order in her stints and made no mistakes. “I’m really happy with my first weekend in the GT4 European Series with W&S Motorsport", Hagler told us after the weekend in the South of France. "The GT4 category is new to me and we were focused on improving each session and learning about the car and the difficult track at Paul Ricard." "We covered a lot of ground throughout the weekend. Thank you to the team and my teammates for all of the hard work. I’m looking forward to Spa with them in a month.” Hagler will in fact be back behind the wheel of the #442 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 at one of Europe's most popular circuits, Spa Francorchamps, from 30th June to 1st July.