When Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler won their second consecutive IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR championship at Road Atlanta last weekend, they did so with a performance that displayed all the characteristics that have guided the duo to two titles.
At first, they faced adversity. The championship looked to be slipping away when Hagler had light contact with the No. 5 KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo TCR, its championship rival. While that was occurring, the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai had an issue with its hood that forced it into the pits.
Amongst the confusion, Hagler pitted the car, expecting the team to check for damage on her No. 1 Hyundai, but found that the team was actually tending to the No. 98 Hyundai and that there was no damage that needed to be repaired on the championship-contending No. 1.
Hagler stopped in the middle of the pit exit as the team tried to sort out the situation. All the while, the No. 1 Hyundai was dropping down the order and the No. 5 Alfa Romeo was moving back into contention.
Just minutes after the No. 1 Hyundai’s issues however, the No. 5 Alfa Romeo was hit by a Grand Sport car and suffered what ended up being race-ending suspension damage. That bailed the No. 1 Hyundai out of further trouble and allowed Hagler and Lewis to regain their lost advantage.
“That was literally crazy, the racing gods were looking out for us,” Lewis said. “Once Taylor had that issue and even the No. 5, I was like ‘this is going to be a crazy day.’ Anything could happen and we just kind of stuck to a nice pace and people started dropping off in front of us and at the end of the race we were almost there for a win,” Lewis added.
People running into trouble, dropping off the pace, and the No. 1 Hyundai emerging in contention for the win was the theme of the season. Hagler and Lewis racked up seven podiums, four second-place finishes, one win, and finished outside of the top five just once.
Meanwhile, the No. 5 Alfa Romeo collected three wins but was plagued by poor finishes including five outside of the top five and two finishes which were outside of the top 10, including in the season finale at Road Atlanta. The No. 5 had outright wins but the No. 1 had consistency.
“Honestly, to have that one behind me is really great because that was a pretty hit-and-miss race. We really had to fight for it,” Hagler said.
“There was a lot that was happening, and it wasn’t looking great there for a while. I just put my head down and did what I could and gave the car to Michael. It’s never over until it’s over. This was the only track on the IMSA schedule that I didn’t have a trophy from, so it’s awesome to close out that collection and finish the season with the championship and another trophy.”