Murillo Mercedes takes Mid-Ohio Michelin Pilot Challenge win

Murillo Mercedes takes Mid-Ohio Michelin Pilot Challenge win

No. 98 Bryan Herta Hyundai Holds on for TCR Win

Just past the halfway point of the Mid-Ohio 120, Eric Foss and the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 appeared to have the two-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course under control.

But pole winner Kenton Koch had pitted and handed the car to Foss one lap earlier than the team had hoped. As a result, Foss knew he was in fuel-saving mode from the start of his 61-minute stint to close Saturday’s late-afternoon race.

Foss had a 6.3-second lead that grew to more than 13 seconds when another Murillo entry, the No. 72 Mercedes driven by Christian Szymczak, tangled with the Nate Stacy in No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 while disputing second place.

At that stage, with 43 minutes left in the race, few would have predicted that Trent Hindman in the No. 7 Volt Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 would catch the leading Mercedes at all, much less with 15 minutes still remaining. Over the next 10 laps, Hindman and Foss engaged in a tremendous battle, once running side-by-side through a series of six corners that began in Mid-Ohio’s famous Esses.

Foss nosed ahead exiting Turn 9 and up through Thunder Valley, and Hindman may have taken the best out of his Michelin tires in the dramatic sequence. He never got quite as close again, and the bright yellow Aston crossed the line 0.699 seconds behind the burnt orange Mercedes.

“We knew we were on the back foot for fuel and luckily I had a bit of a margin there,” Foss said after claiming his first Michelin Pilot Challenge victory since he and Jeff Mosing triumphed at Lime Rock Park in July 2021. “Every time I race with Trent, he’s super polished and fun to race with. I’m glad we were able to have a good battle at the end and make it entertaining for everyone.

“I knew he was coming, and I kept asking, ‘Are we going to make it?’ and they said no,” he added. “When he got to me with five, six, seven laps to go, it felt like an eternity, and the guys in the pits said we just had to go. We didn’t even know if we’d make it to the end.”

Hindman paid respect to his rival Foss and the Murillo team. With the second-place finish, the No. 7 Volt team unofficially holds a 130-point lead over the No. 56 Murillo team in the Grand Sport (GS) standings.

“They did enough once they saw us coming,” Hindman said. “They were able to turn it back up and at least have some faith they were going to make it to the end. I’m happy we ended up where we ended up. Just a really good day overall.”

Andrew Davis and Michael McCann finished third in the No. 8 McCann Racing Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport, with Stacy and Luca Mars taking fourth in the No. 60 KohR Mustang ahead of the No. 72 Murillo Mercedes shared by Szymczak and Kenny Murillo.

Making Murillo Racing’s day even better, the team’s No. 65 Mercedes driven by Tim Probert and Brent Mosing took Bronze Cup honors.
Herta-Mania Hyundais Rule in Touring Car Class

Back in the days of his own race driving career, Bryan Herta’s followers were stricken with “Herta-mania.” While he has long since transitioned from driver to team owner, Herta-mania is alive and well – thanks to the exploits of his son and IndyCar star, Colton, but also through the powerful Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian effort in the Michelin Pilot Challenge. 

Never was that more in evidence than when a veritable flotilla of BHA Hyundai Elantra N TCRs and Veloster N TCRs dominated the Touring Car (TCR) class on Saturday, running nearly half a dozen cars at or near the front throughout much of the two-hour race.

In the end, Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker steered the No. 98 Hyundai Elantra to a win over their No. 1 Hyundai Elantra teammates, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis. The No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS SEQ took advantage of some inter-BHA squabbles to snatch third place in the closing laps of the race. 

“Parker did a great job in his stint,” Gottsacker said. “He pulled out a bit of a gap on the (No. 99) Honda on his in lap. Then we had a good pit stop and came out with a pretty good lead. From there, it was just up to me to execute.”

Although the odds may have favored a BHA victory, the identities of the winning car and drivers were very much in doubt the first half of the race as the Hyundais swapped positions – and occasionally paint – lap after lap, with the No. 99 Victor Gonzalez Racing Team Honda Civic FK7 TCR, the No. 19 van der Steur Racing Hyundai Veloster and the No. 61 Audi in the mix. In fact, the Honda of Victor Gonzalez took the lead by going five or six laps deeper into the race than the Hyundais before making its one and only stop of the race. But when the Honda emerged from pit lane in the hands of Karl Wittmer, it was in eighth spot and no longer a threat.

Not so the Audi, which came from 13th to seventh place on the opening lap thanks to a melee that delayed the No. 1 Hyundai and knocked out the No. 37 LA Honda World Racing Honda of pole sitter Tiago Monteiro.

“Turn 5, Lap 1 was insane,” said Gavin Ernstone, co-driver of the No. 61 Audi. “Spotter Mike Sweeney did an amazing job: ‘Go right! Go right! Go left! Go left! Full throttle!’ and somehow we got through.”

Later, Jon Morley took the Audi’s controls behind the Nos. 98, 2, 77 and 1 Hyundais and seemed destined to finish fifth. But that was before the Hyundais started disputing third place.

“No way I had the pace to catch those cars,” Morley said. “But then they started fighting and it got me back in the mix.”

By finishing second in the No. 1 BHA Hyundai, drivers Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis unofficially expanded their TCR lead to 130 points over Rory van der Steur and Tyler Gonzalez in the No. 19 van der Steur Hyundai.

The next Michelin Pilot Challenge race is the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 at Watkins Glen International, June 23-26.

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