Wilkins, Lewis lead Herta Hyundai 1-2 in TCR season

October 17, 2019

Wilkins, Lewis lead Herta Hyundai 1-2 in TCR season

October 17, 2019

The IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge TCR class proved a pleasant surprise in terms of quality and quantity of competitive entries.

When all the dust settled at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis doubled up in the Fox Factory 120. They won the race in their No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N TCR, and also secured the class championship.

The TCR field grew from only two active manufacturers in 2018, Audi and Volkswagen, to five eligible and four that participated this year. While Audi came back to defend its crown, all of Honda, Hyundai and Alfa Romeo brought new cars to the party. The collective energy from these new hot hatchbacks and quality of entrants that fielded them took the TCR class to new heights this season.

For Wilkins and Lewis, having raced the previous generation Hyundai offering in another series in 2018, adaptation and familiarity helped them transition nicely to IMSA along with their Bryan Herta Autosport team. The BHA team skipped the ROAR Before the Rolex 24 test, and for a good reason: they were awaiting delivery of the pair of Hyundai Veloster N TCR cars.

However, success seemed imminent with top-five pace and performance through the opening two races in Daytona and Sebring.

The breakthrough came in mixed conditions at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in a race that was emblematic of most of the TCR season.

The front-wheel drive cars excelled running Michelin® Pilot® Sport GT S9M commercial slicks on a damp but drying track, so much so Lewis’ pace was actually faster than most GS cars. Having ascended into the top-five overall, Lewis was reordered behind the GS cars on a late caution flag. But after a restart, he came back to the top-five, and made a dynamic pass on the outside of Remo Ruscitti’s Audi.

Lewis held on to deliver the first win for the Veloster N TCR along with Wilkins, his Canadian teammate and a sports car veteran. The duo dominated in substantial heat at Lime Rock Park later that summer.

Another potential moment for title success came in, you guessed it, mixed conditions at the rain-shortened Road America. After recovering from a puncture, the team needed a late yellow, but Lewis’ five-position carve up the order netted an eventual fourth place finish. With single digits covering the top three or four pairings in the championship most of the year, that was a significant result.

The light blue No. 98 Hyundai ascended to the brink of the title with a fuel-conserving second-place finish at the second-to-last race of the year in Monterey. Wilkins and Lewis entered the race with an 11-point lead, and held off their closest rivals by 23 points to secure the crown.

Teammates Harry Gottsacker and Mason Filippi ended second in points after a season-long battle with Wilkins and Lewis. Two other contenders completed the top four, with L.A. Honda World’s young chargers Shelby Blackstock and Tom O’Gorman having won twice, and the plucky pro-am pairing of Jon Morley and Gavin Ernstone pushing through adversity all season in their Roadshagger Racing Audi.

Audi snatched the manufacturer’s championship by one point over Hyundai, in large part due to having more cars on the grid. However, it didn’t detract from the Herta and Hyundai season that ended with the aforementioned 1-2 in the driver championship.

Fist bump for the win. Photo by Levitt/IMSA

Speaking after the championship at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Wilkins and Lewis reflected on what they’d achieved.

“Bryan built a great team for us. It’s just up to us to do our thing,” Wilkins said. “We had to lean on it every single lap. This is a big one. Massive thank you to everyone at Hyundai USA and Hyundai Germany. We were just shy on the manufacturer’s championship, but we’ll come back and get them.”

The Mid-Ohio finish stuck out as a major memorable moment this season.

“Mid-Ohio is always the one we’ll remember,” Wilkiins said. “Michael was incredible battling with the Audi at the end. That was a real nail-biter. That race really kicked off our season.”

Lewis added, “Today at Michelin Raceway is an example of what Mark is capable of doing. He’s so awesome that he knew we were going for the championship, but was also trying to win the race too!”

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