TCR standings leaders Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler have taken their first win of the 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge season in an astonishing race at Lime Rock that saw an unusually high rate of attrition for the division.
Following the pair’s best qualifying session of the year yesterday, pre-start penalties meant the #77 Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai was promoted to the third row of the grid for today’s two-hour race, Hagler quickly elevating the Veloster N into the TCR top five as the race got underway. Delays through traffic meant the third BHA entry quickly fell more than five seconds behind an early (and often side-by-side) battle for the lead between its sister Hyundais – #98 and #33 – and the Atlanta Speedwerks Honda (#84).
A succession of early full course cautions though, plus delays for all three of the early leaders, meant the #77 was right in the thick of the fight for victory as the race entered its closing stages. With just 20 minutes left on the clock, Lewis, running 3rd, first deprived namesake Tim Lewis (KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering, #5) of 2nd before repeating the move on Mikey Taylor (Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports, #17) to take the lead. While the #17 Audi would eventually fall back from the duo up ahead, Lewis in the #77 Bryan Herta Hyundai managed to hold off the hard-charging Lewis in the #5 Alfa Romeo to take the win at Lime Rock.
The result marks the second TCR win of the 2021 season for Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian. Incredibly, after six rounds of this year’s Michelin Pilot Challenge, we have yet to see a repeat winner in TCR.
In a similarly impressive charge, Tyler Maxson in the Copeland Motorsports Hyundai (#27) managed to pass former series champion Mark Wilkins (Bryan Herta Autosport, #33) and Taylor (#17) on the final two laps to claim the Maryland team’s first podium of the season in a hard-fought affair. Ironically, while teammate Tyler Gonzalez had secured Copeland’s first series pole position yesterday, a slow start meant the Floridian driver immediately dropped to 3rd on the opening lap, a position he would hold on to for only a few laps before the #27 Hyundai was given a drive-through penalty for being out of position at the rolling start. Thus began the Veloster N’s charge back to the front.
Incredibly, Copeland Motorsport’s result marks the first time this season that the TCR polesitter has gone on to finish on the podium.
Behind the top three, a scintillating effort by Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports (#17) secured the team 4th place after an incident-packed event. The Audi was sent into a spin at Big Bend on lap two by Roy Block in the KMW Motorsports Alfa, and during his recovery drive, Chris Miller also had to take to the grass to avoid a spinning Turner Motorsport BMW, losing the Audi yet further ground. Despite the issues, the #17 Audi managed to take – and extend – the TCR lead on two separate occasions during a fighting drive, but couldn’t quite hold off the faster Hyundais in the closing moments. 4th nevertheless marked the team’s best result since its win at the season-opener at Daytona.
The second Bryan Herta Hyundai (#33) ended a frustrating race at Lime Rock in 5th, despite the Elantra N hitting the front of the TCR field inside the closing half an hour. Having spent much of the race bottled up behind the sister #77, a fortuitously timed pit stop just before a full course caution – ironically caused by the other BHA entry (#98) – allowed the #33 to leapfrog its way to the front of the pack as the race went green for the final 25 minutes. Like Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports though, behind which the #33 finished by a microscopic 0.081 seconds, Mark Wilkins ultimately couldn’t hold off his charging rivals on their fresher tyres.
Another duo looking to forget Lime Rock will be Harry Gottsacker and Parker Chase (#98). Having led the three-way battle for the TCR lead during the opening stages, the Bryan Herta Hyundai was still running 2nd, and harrying the leader, at three-quarter distance when a broken damper sent this year’s Mid-Ohio winner into the barriers, hard, at West Bend. Unable to repair the damage, the #98 Elantra N was eventually classified 10th behind the VGMC Racing, LLC Honda Civic Type-R (#88).
A bold pit strategy meanwhile ended up costing Atlanta Speedwerks dearly at Lime Rock. An impressive 75-minute stint by Brian Henderson meant the #84 Honda Civic Type-R retained the lead until well after half distance. It was only a matter of time though before Henderson began to run out of tyre, and having held off the chasing pack as long as he could, the #84 Honda soon fell almost 10 seconds behind the top seven before Henderson finally made his first pit stop. Unable to recover the lost time, it was a lonely race thereafter for the Civic en-route to 6th.
Admittedly, Henderson and Robert Noaker fared better than Atlanta Speedwerks teammates Scott Smithson and Ryan Eversley at Lime Rock. An incident for Smithson during free practice meant the #94 Honda was too badly damaged to qualify, and the team worked overnight in an awesome effort to prepare the spare car for the race. Starting from the pitlane, and without ABS, the #94 then lost three laps to a 60-second penalty for running the red light at pit exit. Points for 8th place and issues for hus nearest championship rivals meant TCR contender Ryan Eversley at least retains 2nd place in the standings.
A lonely, albeit clumsy, race for Michael Johnson Racing (#54) produced a 9th place finish at Lime Rock. Having lost ground to the TCR leaders after a tangle with one of the GT division Turner Motorsport BMWs, a robust defense in its attempt to stay on the lead lap, led to heart-in-mouth between the #54 Veloster and the leading #77 Hyundai through the Lefthander. Both tin tops managed to survive unscathed, but don’t expect too many Christmas cards being shared by Bryan Herta Autosport this year.
Lime Rock proved a tough event for Road Shagger Racing (#61), which was in trouble before the green flag even flew. Team mechanics were forced to push the lifeless Audi down the pitlane at the end of the formation lap, and though the RS 3 would eventually return to the track, an attrition-assisted race meant the Sebring TCR winner could still only salvage 11th at the flag ahead of CB Motorsports (#81). The latter was pinged early in the event for speeding on pitlane, but mechanical issues meant the Hyundai Veloster disappeared behind the pit wall not too long after serving its drive-through penalty.
A miserable day for the second Copeland Motorsports Hyundai (#51) ended after just three laps when the Veloster N was unable to avoid the spinning Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi (#17) at Big Bend. A hefty clout to the right rear suspension spelt game over.
Arguably though, front row starter VAN DER STEUR RACING’s race was even worse. Having been sent to the back of the grid for swapping tyres before of the race, the #19 Hyundai managed just one more lap before engine issues brought team owner Rory van der Steur onto pitroad and into retirement.