After claiming last year’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR championship with just one win, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis showed the power of consistency. Now the duo looks set to deploy the same strategy as they attempt to defend their title.
Back-to-back second-place finishes have the pair at the top of the standings after two races. The two teams that have wins this season, Victor Gonzalez Racing (VGRT) and KMW Motorsports, are second and third in the standings but each has a poor finish to go along with their win. VGRT finished Daytona in 13th while KMW went from a win in round one to a 14th-place finish at Sebring.
After never finishing outside of the top five en route to last year’s title, it looked like Hagler and Lewis might be heading towards their worst result in over a year when the Sebring race began. Hagler had to serve two drive-through penalties for infractions of the series’ tire rules and the team spent the first eight laps of the race running last.
“The drive-throughs were obviously really frustrating, and I was just trying to figure it out once we got back in the pack,” Hagler said. “Stefano, my engineer, did a really good job of having a really good strategy to get us back up there.”
By lap 14, when Tagler handed the No. 1 Hyundai Elantra N TCR to Lewis, it was back in fifth, where it had started. The team was helped by the fact that over half of the race was spent behind the safety car as four full course yellows, which often involved barrier repairs, led to 21 laps of pacing.
“Watching Taylor have a cool head was really impressive,” Lewis said. “A lot of times, you have something happen at the start and you get hot-headed and make more mistakes, but she kept it cool and did everything really great.
“We optimized strategy and played that card so when I was out there, I was really just trying to stay clean like Taylor did and cycle to the front through all of the pit stops and we ended up getting towards the front with the best tires and that was the best feeling ever; to be on the best tires and right up at the front.
“From there, I just kind of picked my way through. We almost got the win – I made a little mistake and couldn’t get it done ,but we got second and it was a pretty good points day and that’s what we need all year long. Even though the win was close, we wanted to get it, I think we’re happy with the points.”
There is a similar trend emerging in Grand Sport where the two race winners, RS1 and PF Racing, are fifth and seventh in the standings. Both are being bogged down by 16th and 17th-place finishes respectively.
Meanwhile, the No. 64 TeamTGM and the No. 7 Volt Racing are tied for the championship lead with identical finishes of second and seventh after two rounds. Like their counterparts in TCR, Ted Giovanis and Owen Trinkler had points rather than trophies on their mind.
“It was a great points day for us,” Giovanis said. “I was a bit apprehensive about following up our finish in Daytona, which was a great start to the season but this one we held on – we had a good strategy. We stubbed our toes on the pit strategy, but things worked out. We had a great points day for us.”
Trinkler, meanwhile, opted for a safe run to the finish as opposed to risking the car for a better result that might not have been in the cards.
“Ted did a great job in his stint, kept the car clean like we’ve always talked about, and lady luck is riding with us a little bit, so now we are leading the points,” Trinkler said. “We might have gotten a bit more in the finish, but I was thinking points, and we are out of here with the lead, and I’m so happy for Ted.”