Shift Up Now Athletes Sabre Cook, Loni Unser, Hannah Grisham, Sarah Montgomery and Laura Hayes wrapped up the 2023 World Racing League season at the United States Endurance Championship on December 2-4 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Practice and qualifying on Friday started with fog and heavy mist, creating poor visibility and damp track conditions. Few cars ventured out on track during the morning sessions, leaving all of the work to be done in the afternoon to set qualifying times. Across the four classes, 95 cars were entered in the competition, so finding track space for a flying qualifying lap was challenging.
RACE 1: Saturday, December 3, 2022
Saturday morning dawned overcast, gloomy and chilly. But the track was dry for the start of the first eight-hour endurance race of the weekend. The field was split into two groups for the start, with the GT0 field taking the green flag at 10:00 a.m. ET, followed by the GP field – led by the GP1 class – starting approximately 30 seconds behind.
In the GP1 class, the Round 3 Racing Team Cooper Tire Porsche Cayman – shared by Unser, Cook and teammate Brian Ghidinelli – qualified P3. Cook was behind the wheel first for a triple stint and was relentless in her pursuit of the class lead. Several lead changes during the early hours of the race set the tone for a highly-competitive battle.
Unser drove the middle stint, then handed the wheel to Ghidinelli. As different fuel strategies played out, the team pushed hard to extend their lead, knowing they needed one more pit-stop to make it to the end.
With 30 minutes remaining, the Team Cooper Tire Cayman took to pit lane for a splash of fuel, then rejoined the race in second place. It appeared the Morehead BMW in the lead would be victorious but it began to run out of fuel in the second half of the last lap. Ghidinelli made the pass for the lead, bringing home a dramatic, GP1 win.
In the GP3 class, Grisham and teammates lined up third on the starting grid in the Hagerty Drivers Club Porsche Boxster. Grisham was the closing driver for Saturday’s race.
After a tricky first stint where the the Boxster dropped back in the field, it took slow and steady advancements through the second half of the race to get back in contention. Grisham crossed the finish line in P3, marking the eighth podium finish of the season for her and her Round 3 Racing teammates.
In the 40-car GT0 field, Montgomery and teammates qualified P4 in the Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4. Montgomery was slated to drive the final two stints of Saturday’s race. While she waited, her teammates kept the car hanging just inside the top ten all day. When she took over, she advanced to the P5 position to finish the day, marking her team’s sixth top-five finish of the WRL season.
Also in the GT0 class, Hayes set the fastest time for a BMW M2 at COTA and started P16 on the grid. Hayes drove a triple stint to start Saturday’s race in the Thunder Bunny Racing M2 CS Racing. By the first round of pit stops, she had driven the car into the top ten.
Hayes then briefly took the lead during the pit stop cycle before handing the car over to her teammates. The purple BMW remained within the top ten for the rest of the race and finished P7 overall.
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Sunday’s race started with bright blue skies, but cold conditions once again. The field went green at 9:00 a.m. ET for the second, eight-hour race of the weekend.
Unser and Cook were anxious to get back on track after their victory on Saturday. Unser started the race in the Team Cooper Tire Cayman, knowing another strong finish could clinch the championship. At the halfway point, the team was up to P2 in the GP1 class. Then their strategy played out with one hour to go, putting them into a commanding lead that even the late yellow flags couldn’t interfere with.
When the checkered flag fell, the victory marked the fifth win in a row for the team and sealed the National Championship.
“This season was very special to me because I got to share the car with three Shift Up Now Athletes,” said Unser. “And every race, I shared the car with either Erin Vogel, Sabre Cook or Alyla Argren, our team finished no lower than second place. To me, that drives home the point that men and women can compete as equals.
“I’m endlessly grateful to Round 3 Racing for creating a team environment where success is achieved through such dedication and passion for the sport. To get to partner with brands like Hagerty, Cooper Tire and Pep Boys makes our successes even better because of the passion we all share for the love of driving.”
In the GP3 class, Grisham’s team had a strong first half in the Hagerty Driver’s Club Boxster and spent the entire eight hours in podium contention. As strategies played out, the team led for long stints but a late-race sequence of yellow flags restricted their chances of victory.
The team’s second consecutive third-place finish was enough to lock down the National Championship. The race would mark Grisham’s last with the Round 3 Racing team, as she’ll drive an Aston Martin GT4 when she joins the Heart of Racing Team in 2023.
“What an amazing end to the season coming home with the National Championship,” said Grisham. “I can’t thank Round Three Racing, Shift Up Now and Hagerty enough for the last two years. They have been nothing short of amazing.
“I am leaving the weekend with a very bittersweet feeling. Getting to be on a team with so many of my Shift Up Now teammates has been so refreshing and highly enjoyable. The entire team has become like family and although I am sad to leave, I am very excited for my opportunities next year with The Heart of Racing. This platform set me up and prepared me for what’s to come next year in SRO GT4 America.”
Montgomery started the race in the Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4, but an issue caused the team to make several extra trips to pit lane during her opening triple stint. This left the team with an uphill battle to climb, aiming to get back into the top ten by the end of the race.
Hayes was also behind the wheel on Sunday for the second day in a row. This time, she would start with a double stint rather than a triple. When she handed the car over to her teammates, the Thunder Bunny Racing team was just inside the top ten.
The two GT0 entires of Montgomery and Hayes would finish Sunday’s eight hours of racing in P12 and P13, respectively, just outside the top-ten, points-scoring positions for both cars.
The checkered flag on Sunday marked the end of the 2022 World Racing League season. Shift Up Now is excited to continue its partnership with Round 3 Racing for the 2023 season, helping to keep talented female racers behind the wheel.
Announcements regarding the 2023 season will be coming soon.