Hyundai’s young Texan female racer making history in TCR
America is no stranger to producing or playing host to successful female racing drivers, but it’s only recently that championship successes have come their way in IMSA’s classes.
While Shirley Muldowney was a trailblazer by winning multiple NHRA Top Fuel championships on the drag strip in the 1970s and ’80s (a tradition upheld more recently in Pro Stock by Erica Enders-Stevens), on the track it took until Denmark's Christina Nielsen was crowned IMSA GTD champion in 2016 and ’17 in her Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 – while Britain's Katherine Legge came very close to making that a female hat-trick in 2018, finishing runner-up in her Acura NSX.
And to prove that those level of performances can be inspirational to future generations, 25-year-old Taylor Hagler – who hails from Bulverde, Texas – points to those female sportscar racers as her motivation to switch from equestrian show jumping events to racing cars.
This year, Hagler became the first female racer to win a race in the TCR class of the Michelin Pilot Challenge in her Hyundai Veloster N at Lime Rock Park. Now she too stands on the verge of claiming an IMSA title.
“I’ve mostly watched Christina and Katherine, they’ve been my two inspirations,” says Hagler. “I was fairly young when I started watching Katherine in the DeltaWing, and I’ve always watched her since – she’s been like an idol to me.
“Those female drivers have paved the way and made it easier for me, and that’s what I want to do for future generations, keep helping pave that road to make it easier for the next ones.
“I did do horses before, my dad has always been on the racing side and my mom is the horse person. I got started in horses when we moved to San Antonio but then dad took me to a go-kart track and I really enjoyed that, so I did horses for a while then moved into cars.
“My dad got my older sister a Skip Barber school ticket and she never used it, so I took it and drove the Mazda MX5 Cup cars and really enjoyed that. I had really good feedback from the instructors, so I started racing and loved it. So it all came from there.”
Hyundai's race team boss Bryan Herta explains the rationale behind giving Hagler her chance, which she’s since grabbed with both hands.
“Hyundai had wanted to include a female driver to the race team for a couple of years now but the criteria we always set is that we only want someone who could be successful,” he says. “Adding a female driver just for the sake of adding a female didn’t make a lot of sense to us.
“Taylor caught our attention a year prior, when she was driving a competitor car, and what set her apart was getting the pole at Mid-Ohio. That showed she had the pace. When we started talking it was clear she was very new to racing but was serious about becoming a top-line competitor. She quickly checked all the boxes for us.”
#77: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR, TCR: Michael Lewis, Taylor Hagler
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Hagler explains that having Herta’s expertise, along with co-driver Michael Lewis – who once tested a Ferrari F1 car – has made her progression faster than she ever imagined.
“The journey so far has been kind of crazy,” she says. “It’s been a huge learning experience being with Bryan Herta Autosport, having Michael as my co-driver this season and swapping over to the Veloster N TCR. Everything has been really, really good, Michael has just been great and the car has been phenomenal, and everyone has been really helpful with getting me up to speed really quick.
“Before every race, with Michael we go over everything for like an hour or two, we dissect every single corner on the track and he gives me all his notes, we go over the data. He always gives me three points to work on, and we’ll look at the data in the middle of practice sessions, and he gives me tips and tricks for each track. He’s such a positive guy, so that’s really helpful for my motivation.”
Lewis won the 2019 championship with BHA’s Hyundai squad, and says this year’s experience in developing Hagler’s raw talent has been an extremely rewarding one.
“Racing with Taylor is pretty incredible, she’s really just getting going in motorsports and is proving that she can race up towards the front,” he says. “It’s really cool to be racing with someone who’s so dedicated and willing to listen. If we see something that she needs to improve on, she’s like, ‘Alright, tell me what I need to do’. I love that about her; she’s all-in and committed with this Hyundai program.”
Hagler and Lewis lead the TCR class by 170 points with two rounds remaining at VIR and Road Atlanta, their closest rival being another Hyundai driver, Parker Chase.
Herta adds of his decision to pair them: “Putting Taylor with Michael, who’s won a lot and is one of our most experienced drivers since Day 1, we knew she’d have a great teammate who’d help shorten her learning curve, answer her questions, help her to better cooperate with the team. That’s been so valuable, and their pairing has worked extremely well, and it’s so satisfying when that happens!
“They put themselves in a really strong position, well ahead of their rivals, but we have a policy of letting our cars and drivers race each other – we don’t employ team orders, as you saw at Laguna Seca when we had a team pass on the final lap!
#98: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Ryan Norman, Parker Chase, #33: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Mark Wilkins, Harry Gottsacker
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
“They know the other Hyundai drivers are just as hungry to win it, and they’ll capitalize if they make any mistakes, so I think for them they’ve just got to think big picture these last two weekends and keep scoring solid points to protect their car and their series lead.”