Late-Race Pass from Taylor in No. 17 Audi at Indy Creates Hotly Contested Championship Battle Heading to Season Finale
September 16, 2023
By Jeff Olson for IMSA.com
A wild pass in the dark during the final minutes left one team happy and another angry as the Touring Car (TCR) class championship intensified in Saturday’s penultimate round of the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Mikey Taylor passed Robert Wickens heading into Turn 7 with two minutes left, giving Taylor and polesitter Chris Miller their second consecutive victory and third of the season in their No. 17 Unitronic/JDC Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
“I knew if I had a big enough run, I’d be at least side-by-side,” Taylor said of his approach on the pass. “But he actually braked earlier than I expected, and I got a nice run around the outside. I don’t think he was necessarily expecting me to go there. It’s not a normal place to pass.”
The contact surrounding the pass didn’t go over well with Wickens, who, with co-driver Harry Gottsacker, managed to help maintain the TCR championship lead for the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR.
“I don’t want to be the poor loser, but I’ve never raced the 17 yet this year where there hasn’t been contact,” Wickens said. “I can race everyone else without any contact. It’s just the way he is. If that’s how he wants to play, that’s how we’re going to play.”
Wickens and Gottsacker will unofficially take a 20-point lead over Taylor and Miller into the season-ending race next month at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“We have to perform, every race, to catch back the deficit we had at the beginning of the season,” Taylor said. “We’re taking it to Atlanta now. I think the ball is in our court. If we win, it doesn’t matter what they do.”
On a restart with 11 minutes left, Taylor passed Wickens, who quickly regained the lead when Taylor tangled with the No. 79 NV Autosport Ford Mustang GT4 driven by Drew Neubauer in Turn 14.
Minutes later, Taylor pulled his Audi alongside Wickens’ Hyundai, and the final tussle for the victory commenced. When asked if there was contact in the dark, Taylor replied, “Oh, for sure.”
“It was just good racing,” he continued. “That’s how we’ve all raced all season. I have a lot of respect for them. … If I finished second at Indianapolis, I wouldn’t be happy either.”
The two shook hands during the post-race celebration, but Wickens expressed his frustration with the late move and the previous pass on the restart.
“He hit me to get by, and then he hit a GS (Neubauer),” Wickens said. “I get back in front of him, and then their car is so fast that they just catch back up. I’m blocking for my life, and eventually all he’s going to do is just hit me out of the way. That’s what he does.”
Taylor’s winning margin at the line was 1.138 seconds. The No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR co-driven by Mark Wilkins and Mason Filippi finished third.
The Fox Factory 120, the season finale for the Michelin Pilot Challenge, will be held Oct. 13 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Peacock will provide live streaming coverage in the U.S.