Following a busy week leading up to the race event including the “Roar Before the Rolex 24” test days, and the Hyundai Drivers’ Camp, the official start of the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge kicked off with the BMW M Endurance Challenge on Friday.
The four-hour season opener at Daytona International Raceway is traditionally one of the most demanding on teams and equipment of the 10-race IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge schedule. On par with tradition, the race featured plenty of action on the racetrack and in the pits, totaling 106 laps with 27 under caution.
Mason Filippi and Mark Wilkins kicked off their first season as co-drivers on the podium, finishing third after a hard-fought battle against the #73 Honda and the #61 Audi. With Bryan Herta calling strategy and Chris Finch engineering, the #98 Elantra N TCR was one of the first teams to make the driver change. Wilkins took over for Filippi with over 2.5 hours remaining. It was the final 30 minutes that counted most. Wilkins took the race lead with just under 30 minutes remaining, he paced the field on the final restart and held the lead for 15 laps. He was eventually overtaken by the winning Audi, and the second place Honda, but held on for third position for the second year in a row. It was Filippi’s first podium finish at the famed speedway.
Harry Gottsacker and the #33 Elantra N TCR team moved to the front from their fifth place starting position in in the first hour. All was well with consistently quick laps by Gottsacker and perfect pit stops from the #33 team. Co-driver Robert Wickens took over before the halfway point in what was on pace to be another perfect pitstop before his pit crew identified a loose exhaust pipe. The broken exhaust hanger and its repair cost the team two laps. Wickens regained one lap and took the checkers in sixth position. It was Wickens’ first time driving to the checkered flag since returning to competition using hand controls.
Kicking off the season as the defending series champions for the second year in a row, Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis finished 8th. Hagler had a solid stint, but Lewis was quickly sidelined with mechanical issues after taking over the cockpit. The #1 crew met the car in the garage and worked diligently to return the car to competition. After some quick work by the BHA team, Lewis returned to the race and was able to bring the car home in eighth position.