Surviving and thriving 24 hours in one of the world’s toughest endurance races, four American rookies from Bryan Herta Autosport’s squad of IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR drivers not only finished second in class, but 29th out of 131 starters in the ADAC TotalEnergies 24h Nurburgring. Their Target Competition teammates won the class for a Hyundai one-two.
In a race that included GT3, GT4, Porsche GT3 Cup and a variety of other machinery, finishing 29th overall for a group of rookies was an accomplishment by Michael Lewis, Taylor Hagler, Mason Filippi and Harry Gottsacker. Sixteen of the cars in front of them were GT3 cars, with the others being a mix of GT4 machinery and 992-generation Porsche Cup cars.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Lewis, who set the fastest lap in qualifying, and started and finished the race. “And our teammates won in TCR. So one-two for Hyundai. It’s cool to be one-two in the class, which was really freaking hard, but then to be up in the top 30 is insane against cars with a lot more power and bigger tires and everything. So,thank you to Hyundai. I know it’s cliche to say that, but really, we’re not here without them and Target Competition facilitating all of this. They’re super on-point.
“Thanks to my teammates – not only my American teammates, Mason, Harry and Taylor for killing it out there, but also for Marc [Basseng], Manuel [Lauck Saarbourg] and Mikel [Azcona] for a lot of insight into how to do this race. They would give us one-liners here and there before getting in the car. And sharing all that data was really helpful. So big team effort, and of course, Bryan Herta Autosport for facilitating us getting here with Hyundai.”
The project to bring four young American BHA drivers to the 24 Hours of Nurburgring began before COVID, and finally happened this year. For each of the N24 rookies, getting into the race meant five trips to Germany for familiarization and qualifying races. The N24 is a challenge not just for the track itself – the one that Jackie Stewart notoriously coined “The Green Hell” – but for the variety of machinery. The BHA drivers are used to sharing the track with GT4 machinery in MPC, but not with GT3 cars in addition to cars much slower than the TCR machinery, which fall in the middle of the range.
“There were a few moments at night – you’re going three wide passing a slow guy and then there’s another faster car passing you in the grass and you’re just like, ‘ah, man, this is crazy!’” said Filippi. “Then I got bumped by one of the leaders and I was completely sideways, I was looking at the wall and I was like, ‘That would be really horrible for the team.’ But we saved it so it was all good. But you know, just moments like that is where you get a little extra stress.”
Three of the four drivers reported contact while being passed by GT3 cars, but fortunately none of it was serious. Other than that it was a trouble-free run requiring fuel and tires every eight laps and a single brake change for the 24 hours. It was relatively uneventful for the quartet of drivers in their first 24-hour race at the Nurburgring. And for Hagler, having an uneventful run was a special bonus considering her first experience in the TCR car at the Nurburgring came this weekend after completing the qualifying races in the slower VT2-class Elantra.
“The TCR car was extremely different from the VT2 car,” Hagler said. “The VT2 car was a little bit more on rails in the higher speed stuff and pretty stable in the slower speed stuff. The TCR car is very stable everywhere and it gave me a lot of confidence, especially around this track, that I could kind of throw whatever I wanted at the car and it was going to be there to save me. I was able to run some pretty decent times today, got up to speed today. I’m pretty happy with that without having a lot of time in this car on this track, especially during a race.”
All four of the drivers are quick to say they would love to do the race again, and are proud of their results.
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” said Gottsacker. “Those guys are some of the best in the world, especially at this racetrack, and for us to finish this close to them and be competitive with them at times was just truly an honor. And we had a great race … no mistakes, no penalties.”
The BHA drivers return to MPC action at the end of June at Watkins Glen International. Filippi and Mark Wilkins are leading the TCR points after three straight podiums, including a victory in the most recent race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Gottsacker and Robert Wickens are second in the standings, while defending champs Lewis and Hagler are looking to climb the ranks after a rough start to their season.