Finishing in the Top Five at Every Michelin Pilot Challenge Race but One This Season Has Put the No. 1 Bryan Herta Hyundai in Position to Repeat
By Jeff Olson
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The goal before each race for Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis isn’t necessarily to win. The goal is to finish well.
That means finishing on the podium, and more often than not, they achieve it. In the nine IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge races so far this season, they’ve finished in the top three in the Touring Car (TCR) class six times.
Despite just one victory, they’re in the lead for the driver and car championships as they prepare for the season-ending Fox Factory 120 on Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. If it happens, it will be their second championship in a row.
And their philosophy remains the same: Consistency wins championships.
“We go more for consistency – the top-five finishes and podium finishes – instead of going for the win in every race,” Hagler said. “I feel like that’s when mistakes happen, when you push a bit too hard. Our goal is usually just podiums every race. Wins are nice. When they happen, they happen. But the goal is consistency.”
Hagler and Lewis put themselves on the point for their second consecutive championship Aug. 27 by winning at VIRginia International Raceway in the No. 1 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR. That pushed them ahead of Roy Block and Tim Lewis, who have won three races this season in the TCR class.
Hagler and Michael Lewis lead Block and Tim Lewis in their No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by 100 points heading into Friday’s two-hour finale on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway circuit.
Only once this season have Hagler and Michael Lewis finished outside the top five. At Watkins Glen in June, they took the checkered flag in sixth but were moved to the rear of the class in the official results for not meeting minimum drive-time requirements. Otherwise, their lead would be 200 points heading to Michelin Raceway.
Steady performances have been the bedrock of the Hagler-Lewis pairing for two seasons now. Last year, they also won just once but only finished outside the top five on one occasion to win the championship. Another result of fifth or better on Friday wraps up the repeat, no matter how the No. 5 Alfa Romeo fares.
“Consistency is definitely key,” Michael Lewis said. “It’s not always super flashy. You’re not winning every race or doing things in a dramatic way, but you’re always there. … It’s not close to being finished, but consistency has put us in position going into the last race.”
If it happens, a championship would be another milestone for Hagler, who became the first woman to win a Michelin Pilot Challenge championship. She quickly points out that her teammate is on the verge of a third championship – having won in 2019 with Mark Wilkins – also a series record.
“It’s pretty historic for me and Michael – me as a female driver being able to do two championships back-to-back – but for me and Michael to be the first back-to-back champions for TCR, and for Michael to be the first three-time TCR champion.”
Part of the reason behind the No. 1 car’s success is BHA’s six-car operation in the TCR class. Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker have one win in the No. 98 BHA Elantra and are tied for third in the standings with teammates Michael Johnson, Stephen Simpson and the No. 54 Michael Johnson with BHA Elantra. Wilkins and Robert Wickens won two races this season in the No. 33 BHA Elantra, with Wickens and the No. 33 just 10 points behind the Nos. 98 and 54 – giving the Herta stable four of the top five in the standings and already clinching the TCR manufacturer title for Hyundai for a third straight year.
“It’s a massive operation, and we tend to all share our data,” Hagler said. “The engineers will talk among themselves, especially when one of the cars has a problem, to find out who has what on their setup and what might be beneficial for someone else. That’s one of the pros to having such a big team. There are so many drivers and so many engineers to learn from.”
It’s not just depth. It’s also circumstance. As in any championship, luck can help or hinder a team’s chances to put together a consistent season.
“We maximize what we can, but we also need a lot of luck,” Michael Lewis said. “You can’t win championships without luck. You need the perfect combination of focus, teamwork, doing well on track, a good car and luck. That’s the equation, and the last couple of years we’ve had luck on our side.”
The Grand Sport (GS) class is a two-car championship battle as well. The No. 7 Volt Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 with drivers Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman holds a 160-point lead over Eric Foss and the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4. The No. 7 claims the class crown by finishing 11th or better, but with 25 GS cars entered, the competition will be fierce.
Practice at Michelin Raceway begins Wednesday, with qualifying at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. The Fox Factory 120 starts Friday at 1:10 p.m., with live coverage on Peacock and IMSA Radio.