WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – With 11 minutes to go, Turner Motorsport’s Bill Auberlen went to the outside of Murillo Racing’s Christian Szymczak entering the Inner Loop. After a brief side-by-side battle, Auberlen was able to take over the lead. While everyone fought behind him, Auberlen was able to pull away to take the win for himself and Dillon Machavern in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 at Watkins Glen International Saturday (June 25). It is Auberlen and Machavern’s first win of 2022.
“We had nothing to lose. We’re not in the championship [battle] right now because we’ve had bad luck,” Auberlen told NBC Sports’ Hannah Newhouse in victory lane. “We’ve had a great car, but bad luck. This Turner [Motorsport] team has done so much work; they deserve to win.”
Rennsport One’s Eric Filguerias led the field of 43 starters to green and managed to pull away slightly from the pack. Murillo Racing’s Kenny Murillo was able to get past Riley Motorsports’ Alfredo Najri on the start to move up to second.
Eventually, KohR Motorsports’ Luca Mars got up to Murillo and began to battle with him. This allowed Filguerias to expand his lead.
Further back, a couple of teams ran into tire issues. Rebel Rock Racing’s Frank DePew had contact with PF Racing’s Sheena Monk in turn 1 while racing for 19th. The result was a cut left front tire that forced DePew to trundle around to get a new tire. Later on, Stephen Cameron Racing’s Sean Quinlan also cut a left front tire.
The first yellow flew 20 minutes into the race when Dr. Anton Dias Perera in the second Riley Motorsports Toyota got in the gas a little too quickly exiting turn 7. He spun his Supra out and backed into the Armco.
The hit was significant enough to damage the guardrails, resulting in a lengthy yellow. A number of teams chose to pit here to change tires even though it was before the 40-minute minimum drive-time had been reached.
As the race continued on, the flat tires started to rack up. First, Rory van der Steur‘s Hyundai had a suspension issue. He ended up having to stop and rectify it. He continued after the fix, but was eight laps down.
The flat tires continued as well. VOLT Racing’s Alan Brynjolfsson cut a tire while running fifth. Quinlan cut a second tire, while Najri had a flat as well. Eventually a caution was brought out to sweep the track.
Prior to the debris caution, Filguerias led the entire first half of the race before stopping for tires, fuel and to put Stevan McAleer in the Porsche. That gave the lead to Murillo and eventually Eric Foss.
Foss made a green flag stop with 53 minutes to go to put Kenton Koch in the car just before the caution came out. That allowed Koch to cycle around to the overall lead with teammate Szymczak right on his tail.
A couple more cautions due to both Tyler Maxson and Ryan Eversley‘s cars stalling on track kept the field clustered close together. In Eversley’s case, it was a minor issue that completely stranded the car.
Had a top 5 car but a tiny wire connector came loose and rendered us dead on the side of the road. Not my year. https://t.co/vI94dmWCIL
— Ryan Eversley (@RyanEversley) June 25, 2022
Szymczak was able to take the lead from Koch entering the Inner Loop on the restart after Maxson’s stalled car. McAleer followed Szymczak past into second. He then challenged for the lead until Eversley stalled.
On the restart, Auberlen was able to get past McAleer for second by leaning on the Porsche and pushing McAleer wide.
A lap later, he was right on Szymczak for the overall lead. He got such a big head of steam coming onto the backstretch that it was all Szymczak could do to push him to the outside line. Even with the contrarian line, Auberlen was still able to get the pass done.
McAleer was able to get back past Szymczak for second as the field closed up for a classic duel. This allowed Auberlen to get away to take the win with ease. Once in victory lane, the Turner Motorsport team celebrated in style. As you can see above, Daniel Suarez is not the only person in racing that celebrates with a taco pinata.
Auberlen and Machavern’s margin of victory was 2.055 seconds over McAleer and Filguerias, but only because Auberlen backed off on the final lap. Szymczak and Murillo were third, followed by a resurgent Robin Liddell and DePew in the Rebel Rock Camaro. FCP Euro with Ricca Autosport’s Trevor Andrusko and Mike Skeen were fifth.
VOLT Racing’s Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman recovered from their aforementioned flat tire to finish sixth. Reached after the race, Hindman was unsure what caused the flat. He theorized that attacking the curbs too aggressively may have been to blame.
Koch and Foss fell back to seventh late, followed by Mars and Nate Stacy. Robby Foley and Vin Barletta in the second Turner BMW was ninth, while Billy Johnson and Bob Michaelian rounded out the top 10 in the second KohR Motorsports Mustang.
In TCR, Bryan Herta Autosport’s Mason Filippi started from the pole in his Hyundai and led early over JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Chris Miller. The caution for Dias Perera’s crash opened up the race for pit strategy. Filippi and about half of the class chose to pit under that yellow. Victor Gonzalez Jr. chose to stay out in his Honda and took the class lead.
Shortly after the restart, Robert Wickens was able to get past Gonzalez for the lead. Once there, Wickens was able to pull out a decent gap until he made a pit stop on lap 28 past the halfway point to put Mark Wilkins in the car.
Wickens’ stop moved Parker Chase into the lead with a strategy to go long. However, this bit Chase when the second caution flew and the pit lane closed. The length of caution laps at Watkins Glen, plus the need to wait to the third lap behind the pace car for the pits to open for TCR cars meant that Chase would have stayed in the car too long.
In two-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge races, minimum drive time is 40 minutes and time in the pit lane does not count towards that number. If you fail to meet that minimum, then you are positioned at the rear of the class unless you voluntarily park before completing 90% of the winner’s distance.
In light of this issue, Chase chose to pit a lap early with the Grand Sport cars so that Harry Gottsacker could get in and satisfy the regulations. Two laps later, the team did a regular stop as well. This put them at the rear of the TCR lead lap. Chase and Gottsacker would eventually finish eighth in class.
The shuffle ultimately put Wilkins in the class lead with Road Shagger Racing’s Jon Morley in second. Once the race finally got going, Wilkins was able to pull away while Ryan Norman was able to get by Morley for second before Maxson stalled and brought out the yellow.
Shortly after the next restart, KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering’s Tim Lewis Jr. was able to get by Norman for second. For the final 14 minutes after the last restart, Wilkins and Lewis fought hard for the class lead. However, Wilkins was able to use his speed advantage in high speed corners to hold off Lewis’ Alfa Romeo to take the win.
For Wickens, this is his first career victory in Michelin Pilot Challenge and his first win period since he was full-time in DTM in 2017.
“I’d rather count by races rather than years [since my last win],” Wickens told NBC Sports’ Brian Till after the race. “We’ve been so close to…getting back onto the podium, but it’s been taken away from us for seemingly no reason at all. The car was great. The Hyundai Elantra N TCR was dialed in all weekend. The Alfa has different strengths than us, so the final laps were pretty nerve-wracking.”
Wickens and Wilkins’ margin of victory was three-eights of a second over Lewis and Roy Block. Norman and AJ Muss were the highest finishing of the Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundais in third, followed by Morley and Gavin Ernstone, who came from 12th on the grid to finish fourth. Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson were fifth.
Michelin Pilot Challenge teams are back in action next Saturday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park 120. The race will go green at 4:10 p.m. ET July 2 and will air live on Peacock.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.