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.
AUGUST 26, 2023
By John Oreovicz and Jeff Olson
Mikey Taylor and Chris Miller got the victory in the Touring Car (TCR) class Saturday at VIR, but Robert Wickens and Harry Gottsacker maintained their grip on the championship.
Taylor held on through a one-lap shootout to claim the class victory in the No. 17 Unitronic/JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR he co-drives with Miller. Wickens held on to second in the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR he shares with Gottsacker.
While trying to chase down the leader late in the race, Tim Lewis went off course in the esses from second place, telling his crew over the radio that something broke on the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR. That resulted in a full-course caution with eight minutes remaining in the two-hour race, letting the field gather closer to Taylor.
The ensuing restart was a one-lap run to the finish over the 17-turn, 3.27-mile circuit. Taylor brought it home 6.974 seconds ahead of Wilkins, who finished 0.550 seconds ahead of BHA stablemate Mason Filippi in the No. 98 BHA Hyundai he co-drives with Mark Wilkins.
Before the late caution, Taylor was leading comfortably but was razor thin on fuel. When asked if he thought he could win had the yellow not come out, Taylor said he wasn’t quite sure.
“I think it would’ve been fine,” he said. “But at the same time, because of the yellow, these guys were pulled back up to us. It could’ve gone either way, really. We were just trying to maximize the package the car has. We don’t have enough fuel, really, to do a full stint. We kind of got lucky today.”
While Taylor and Miller closed on Wickens and Gottsacker in the championship standings, the No. 33 duo remains 50 points ahead with only two races – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta – remaining on the 2023 schedule. Filippi, Wilkins and the No. 98 BHA Hyundai are 110 points from the leaders.
“We’re going to have to beat them in the next two races to beat them in the championship,” Miller said. “But we have a good car and the best team, so we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The victory for the No. 17 did, however, push Audi into the TCR manufacturer points lead by just 10 over Hyundai, which is seeking its fourth straight crown.
The next Michelin Pilot Challenge race is four hours in length, on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The telecast of Saturday’s VIR race airs at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3 on CNBC.