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Michelin Pilot Challenge

Johnson Pauses TCR Campaign With BHA

Bryan Herta Autosport seeking new drivers for third Hyundai Elantra N TCR entry…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Michael Johnson will forgo the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, having opted to sit out of next year’s campaign in order to focus on supporting his family’s business and securing the necessary funding for a racing return.

The 30-year-old paraplegic TCR class race-winner, who joined Bryan Herta Autosport in 2021 and was part of the team’s six-car Hyundai Elantra N TCR campaign, was hoping to again be on the grid next year after coming off his most successful season to date.

However, Johnson informed team owner Bryan Herta of the change in direction last week, which has left two empty seats in the teams’ program when factoring in his longtime co-driver Stephen Simpson, who is not expected to continue at BHA.

“It’s definitely not something I wanted to do,” Johnson told Sportscar365. “Coming up with the funding, that was really our biggest hurdle and the thing that’s preventing us from running next year.

“We kind of had known for a while that this could be an option but I was hoping we could come up with something before the deadline of when we really had to [commit] if we were going to run or not.

“Unfortunately that really didn’t come. We’ll take a little bit of a break and hopefully we’ll secure the funding that we need for either to do some testing this year, do something to keep me in a car, and then really try and focus on 2024.”

Johnson has been a mainstay in Pilot Challenge competition since 2016, initially with JDC-Miller Motorsports and finished third in the TCR championship this year alongside Simpson with three class podiums in the final four races.

While he said it would be “ideal” to return to the TCR ranks with BHA in 2024, Johnson noted the sometimes invisible economical challenges that’s impacted numerous drivers in the sport.

“I think it’s that one thing that people really don’t talk about is just how tough it really is and what you have to go through behind the scenes, especially as a driver,” he said.

“Everyone’s pretty hush about the challenges you have, especially with the way things are going right now in the world, it’s kind of up in the air.

“Hopefully this is just short-term for us. It’s going to give me some time to help my family’s business out as well, just because it’s taken a huge hit as well. That’s something to keep my focus on.

“We’ll be back, it’s just a matter of when that will be.”

Herta, meanwhile, has praised Johnson’s efforts and said the “door is always open” for him to return to the team in the future.

“It’s sad for me because Michael came such a long way in just the time we’ve been working with him,” he told Sportscar365.

“[2022] was his best year to date. He and Stephen finished third in the championship.

“Michael had some legit, really, really strong stints and drives and we were looking forward going into next year like legit championship threat with the 54 car.

“We’ve come to really grow and admire Michael Johnson a lot, of what he does.

“Even just the innovation of the hand control system for the car, we’ve evolved it since he brought it and we’ve helped make it better.

“But without what he’s done in pioneering that system and technology, I don’t think Robert Wickens would be racing today and maybe others.

“Michael’s contribution to the sport is significant.”

BHA Seeking Drivers for Third Hyundai TCR Entry in Reduced 2023 Effort

Herta said they’re now actively seeking drivers to fill the final two seats in BHA’s scaled back three-car TCR squad next year.

It comes after the team ran six Hyundais in 2022, which Herta admitted had overextended the championship-winning organization.

“The reality is that it’s hard to staff six cars,” said Herta. “It’s hard to find enough people and it’s hard to manage 12 strong personalities of drivers who all have their own personal goals as well as the teams’ and Hyundai’s goals in mind.

“It became difficult. It didn’t make us much stronger. In some ways it weakened us a little bit.

“I think we lost what we’ve been good at in the past, which was really good execution, pit stops, strategy and I think we watered ourselves down a little bit.

“On the heels of that, the focus became, ‘Let’s really get focused again and get back to where we’re the strongest and what we did best.’ That was with three or four cars.

“We settled on doing three and we’re going to commit to that for the coming year.”

Two of the teams’ most successful driver pairings will return in two-time and defending class champions Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis, as well as Wickens and Mark Wilkins in a second Hyundai.

Herta said they are now in the “unexpected position” of having to fill the final two seats on relatively short notice.

“Certainly anybody who has driven for us or raced a Hyundai before should be under consideration or on the list,” he said.

“But we’re going to use this opportunity also to cast the net a little wider and think about maybe who hasn’t been with us or not in TCR before that might be a good addition to the team.

“I know we can find drivers to put in the car but it’s an important decision and we want to find the right drivers, the best drivers, ones that fit in the program the best.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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