Back in the days of his own race driving career, Bryan Herta’s followers were stricken with “Herta-mania.” While he has long since transitioned from driver to team owner, Herta-mania is alive and well thanks to the exploits of his son and IndyCar star, Colton, but also through the powerful Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian effort in the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Never was that more evident than when a veritable flotilla of BHA Hyundai Elantra N TCRs and Veloster N TCRs dominated the Touring Car (TCR) class on Saturday, running nearly half a dozen cars at or near the front throughout much of the two-hour race.
In the end, Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker steered the No. 98 Hyundai Elantra to a win over their No. 1 Hyundai Elantra teammates, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis. The No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS SEQ took advantage of some inter-BHA squabbles to snatch third place in the closing laps of the race.
“Parker did a great job in his stint,” Gottsacker said. “He pulled out a bit of a gap on the [No. 99] Honda on his in-lap, then we had a good pit stop and came out with a pretty good lead. From there, it was just up to me to execute.”
Although the odds may have favored a BHA victory, the identities of the winning car and drivers were very much in doubt the first half of the race as the Hyundais swapped positions – and occasionally paint – lap after lap, with the No. 99 Victor Gonzalez Racing Team Honda Civic FK7 TCR, the No. 19 van der Steur Racing Hyundai Veloster and the No. 61 Audi in the mix. In fact, the Honda of Victor Gonzalez took the lead by going five or six laps deeper into the race than the Hyundais before making its one and only stop. When the Honda emerged from pit lane in the hands of Karl Wittmer, it was in eighth spot and no longer a threat.
Not so the Audi, which came from 13th to seventh place on the opening lap thanks to a melee that delayed the No. 1 Hyundai and knocked out the No. 37 LA Honda World Racing Honda of pole sitter Tiago Monteiro.
“Turn 5, lap 1 was insane,” said Gavin Ernstone, co-driver of the No. 61 Audi. “Spotter Mike Sweeney did an amazing job. ‘Go right! Go right! Go left! Go left! Full throttle!’ Somehow we got through.”
Later, Jon Morley took the Audi’s controls behind the Nos. 98, 2, 77 and 1 Hyundais and seemed destined to finish fifth, but that was before the Hyundais started disputing third place.
“No way I had the pace to catch those cars,” Morley said. “But then they started fighting and it got me back in the mix.”
By finishing second in the No. 1 BHA Hyundai, drivers Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis unofficially expanded their TCR lead to 130 points over Rory van der Steur and Tyler Gonzalez in the No. 19 van der Steur Hyundai.
The next Michelin Pilot Challenge race is the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 at Watkins Glen International, June 23-26.