Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian came out on top of a sensational battle at Mid-Ohio to secure its first TCR victory of the season at round three of this year’s Michelin Pilot Challenge.
For the opening hour of the Mid-Ohio 120, the top five (and occasionally the top six) TCR contenders were rarely split by more than two seconds. At the front of the train, Rory van der Steur aboard the #19 VAN DER STEUR RACING Hyundai Veloster N steadfastly held on to the lead despite enormous pressure from Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker in the pursuing #98 and #33 Bryan Herta Elantras. Behind the lead trio, Mike LaMarra in the LA Honda World Racing Civic (#73) and Tyler Gonzalez in the Copeland Motorsports Hyundai (#27) followed in close formation. This opening salvo was only brought to a brief end when contact in the GS-division left the #42 American Wheelman Ford Mustang stranded at the final corner, the incident bringing out the first of the race’s two safety car periods.
With all but one of the TCR runners pitting when the pit lane finally opened, a lightning fast stop by Copelands Motorsports allowed the #27 Hyundai to leapfrog into the lead from 5th on the road. Though Tyler Maxson (now at the wheel) managed to pull two seconds clear of the pursuing #98 and #33 Bryan Herta Elantras – which maintained 2nd and 3rd respectively after the pit stops – both blue Hyundais quickly reined in the Veloster N again.
With half an hour left on the clock, Ryan Norman, now driving the #98 BHA Hyundai, made an audacious move over the brow of the hill at turn seven, taking both Maxson by surprise and the TCR lead in one fell swoop. One lap later, BHA teammate Michael Lewis in the #77 Hyundai also relinquished Maxson of 2nd place as well.
Despite another safety car period bunching the field up again for the final 20 minutes, the #98 and #77 held station to the flag to secure a Bryan Herta Autosport 1-2, the team’s best result since last year’s Sebring finale. The result also means that Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler, the latter of whom started the race in 11th place, have now extended their lead in the TCR standings to 900 points.
Atlanta Speedwerks secured a hard-earned 3rd place with the #94 Honda in what turned out to be a frustrating weekend for the Gainesville squad. One day earlier, the sister #84 Civic Type-R secured its third successive Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR pole position, but Brian Henderson and Robert Noaker were relegated to the back when their Honda’s front splitter was found to have been modified. Unable to replicate its sister car’s pace, the #84 finished 11th ahead of Michael Johnson Racing (#54) and CB Motorsports (#88), the third time in as many races that the #84 Honda has finished outside the TCR top 10.
A late race charge for Scott Smithson and Ryan Eversley meanwhile saw the Atlanta Speedwerks #94 Honda scythe back through the field after dropping to 11th in the opening laps. In the end, Eversley finished just 1.8s behind the winner, despite rejoining the race seven positions behind after the pit stops.
Unable to hold the #94 Honda back, Copeland Motorsports (#27) nevertheless managed to repel the third Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai (#33) to take 4th. It was a solid if slightly frustrating end to the race for Harry Gottsacker and Mark Wilkins, the #33 teammates having spent most of the race comfortably inside the top three.
Sebring race winner Road Shagger Racing completed a sensational recovery drive to 6th at Mid-Ohio. Gavin Ernstone, having started 5th in the #61 Audi RS3 LMS, was spun in the very early stages by Gonzalez in the #27 Copeland Motorsports Hyundai, and was later sent off-track again by an overly-ambitious move from Taylor Hagler while the pair were battling for 7th. Despite the longer pit stop required to replace the damaged right rear wheel, Jon Morley completed a quiet run thereafter en-route to 6th.
The furious battle at the front of TCR unfortunately proved fruitless for three of the race’s early pacesetters. Chris Milller in the Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi (#17) led the field away at the green flag as the event’s new default polesitter, and maintained a comfortable advantage over the pursuing pack until RS3 LMS stumbled upon the Riley Motorsports Toyota Supra on lap five. Baulked several times across two laps, the Audi eventually made its way past the GS-division Toyota, by which point Miller had dropped from 1st to 5th. The Daytona winner was eventually felled by handling problems that dropped the Audi to 14th.
The #19 VAN DER STEUR RACING Hyundai meanwhile, after a fantastic defensive drive for much of the opening hours, was bumped back from 2nd to 4th during the pits stops. Though Denis Dupont had begun battling his way back to the front, the Hyundai began losing reems of time after suspected contact in the congested mid-pack. The Veloster N quickly dropped out of the top 10 altogether and was eventually retired.
Finally, the LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic Type-R (#73) fared slightly better than its ill-fated rivals. At the halfway point, Mike LaMarra was running just a couple of seconds behind the leading Hyundai, but lost three places and dropped to 7th during a busy pit stop shuffle. Teammate Mat Pombo did set the fastest TCR lap of the race – a 1m 28.884s – during the closing stages, but was unable to hold off KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering’s charging Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce (#5), and thus finished 8th.
The Hyundai Velosters of CB Motorsport (#81), which survived a spin at the Keyhole, and Copeland Motorsports (#51), which received a penalty for a starting infringement, rounded out the TCR top 10 at Mid-Ohio.