It came down to the wire, the final round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Georgia’s challenging Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The TCR Class titles for Driver, Team and Manufacturer were on the line and once more it was the squadron of Hyundai VELOSTER N TCR and ELANTRA N TCR racecars from Bryan Herta Autosport that sealed the deal for the Team and Manufacturer crowns.
The Driver title went to Michael Lewis, his second, and Taylor Hagler, her first professional motorsport title and the first female driver to earn a TCR title in North America as well as the first to win a Michelin Pilot Challenge championship.
It’s been more than four years since Bryan Herta took a chance with Hyundai, a brand with very little motorsports experience in the U.S. Since then, the partnership has gone from strength to strength, an instrumental part of cultivating Hyundai motorsport and performance production car bona fides.
“In the past, Hyundai wasn’t really known for racing or performance,” says Herta. “But with the advent of the N Performance models, it gave Hyundai an avenue to go racing, and I’m really proud of our part in their becoming a disruptive brand in the motorsports space and establishing themselves in the performance marketplace. Not many car makers have done that in the last several years.”
The IMSA TCR Class has steadily expanded over the last three seasons, so while this may be the team’s second straight year sweeping all the titles on offer, the task has only gotten harder. Herta credits the team’s diligence and preparation, along with its execution during race weekends, for delivering the results.
“As the quality of the championship and level of competition improve, you have to be good at everything,” he adds. “You can’t just say, ‘We have the fastest car so we’re going to win,’ because that just isn’t true anymore.”
Indeed, all four TCR manufacturers entered scored wins, but the strength of Bryan Herta Autosport showed in having all four team cars scoring multiple podium results that included a race win for three of them. The new Hyundai ELANTRA N TCR netted two wins, while the tried-and-true VELOSTER N TCR scored a win in the hands of Hagler and Lewis.
For Lewis, winning a second title is equally as sweet as the first, but came as the result of a different approach. His partnership with co-driver Hagler, their first together, and her still being a relative newcomer to the sport, put their focus on consistency and finishing races.
“We did win a race in Lime Rock, but still this championship was all about getting on the podium as much as we could,” says Lewis. “Taylor learned and adapted to everything so quickly, and we always took the approach that anything can happen in multi-class racing. So the opportunity was always there and that really motivated myself, Taylor and our engineer, Kyle Compton, to do the best we could, and look what happened.”
For Herta, a second title triple is the reward for a program and a driver roster that always seeks to excel, but like all racers, he’s most excited by what comes next. Roll on 2022!
Taylor Hagler: Positive Pressure
Nobody puts more pressure on Taylor Hagler than Hagler herself. The newly crowned IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR Class co-champion knows that in the top levels of pro racing, results are what matter, and she delivered in 2021.
Hagler’s role starting the races was pivotal to title success. The margin for error is razor thin, so Taylor had to be on point in order for co-driver Michael Lewis to bring home the final result in the No. 77 VELOSTER N.
“The team never looked at me as a female driver, but I definitely put the pressure on myself,” says Hagler. “Winning at Lime Rock Park and running competitively in the Top-3 (during the race) was a big turning point. Our collective confidence went up after that.
“I have a lot of gratitude for my co-driver Michael (Lewis) and our engineer Kyle Compton. They encouraged me when I needed it; challenged me every race weekend. It was true teamwork that won the championship.”