Getting to the top is tough; staying there is tougher. It’s an adage that stands the test because, as Bryan Herta will tell you, it’s certainly proving to be true in 2022.
Into the breach once more, Bryan Herta Autosport’s armada of Hyundai Elantra N TCRs are seeking a third straight trifecta of Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ Championships in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. The manufacturers’ crown is especially important to Hyundai, so BHA is joined in its mission to secure a hat trick of titles by the Veloster N TCRs of van der Steur Racing and CB Motorsports.
As episode six of Hyundai presents Next Level: Drive to Three-Peat reveals, the first three races of 2022 delivered their share of challenges and mishaps for Bryan Herta Autosport, but some successes as well. And as the episode draws to a close, team boss Herta reveals that changes are afoot.
Now, as BHA prepares to head into the second half of the season at the Lime Rock Park 120, July 16, the team is on a roll. Robert Wickens and Mark Wilkins have won the last two races in their No. 33 Elantra N TCR, while defending champs Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis have regained the lead in the driver standings in their No. 1 machine. Adding to the increasing momentum, Hyundai leads the manufacturer standings, and BHA holds the top spot in the team classification. Can they stay there?
“We’ve been making little adjustments behind the scenes, really since the Daytona opener, and I feel like the last couple of races are validation that we’re going in the right direction now,” says Herta. “The competition has really continued to improve, and we know that several teams are a threat every weekend. We’ve made big strides, so what I’m looking at now are the tracks that really suit us, like Lime Rock, where we will have to execute and get the results.”
According to Herta, the challenges the squad has faced this year are partially down to circumstances beyond their control, such as supply chain problems, but a few are also self-inflicted.
“We’ve had some execution errors, some driving errors, and the like,” he says. “But it’s not all bad. Those things force you to look more critically at what you’re doing and work harder at ways to do things better.”
For defending champions Hagler and Lewis, consistency has been the bedrock of their 2022 title bid. It worked for them in ’21 and it continues to do so again this season. Prior to Lime Rock, the pair had yet to win a race – as was the case last year — but they have scored four second-place finishes in the first six races to put themselves on top of the points table.
“We like to win races, but the end goal is always to win a manufacturers’ championship,” says Hagler. “You get that done by being consistent. The Hyundai Elantra N TCR has really been developed for this year, but the competition has also gotten tougher.
“Going into Lime Rock, I don’t want to get my hopes up just because we won there last year, but we’re feeling pretty confident in the car and our ability,” she adds. “Being defending champions has given me more confidence, but also added pressure to repeat. The Elantra suits me better, so I do feel like I can be more aggressive on track.”
For Herta, the Hagler and Lewis partnership is doing exactly what it should be doing.
“They’ve been really phenomenal and so consistent,” he says. “We had a miscue at Watkins Glen that cost us a bunch of points, but that was a team mistake, not one by Taylor and Michael. They really pushed their teammates, [race winners] Robert and Mark, all the way at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. That race could have gone either way, and if they continue that, they’ll score wins in the second half of the season.”
Fielding six cars gives BHA a numerical advantage, but also a lot to do. Herta thinks the whole organization is on top of it now compared to earlier in the season, where they were caught wrong-footed on more than one occasion. The second half of the season starts now, the quest for a three-peat is on the right track.