Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes kicked off the WRL Eastern Championship season at NOLA Motorsports Park on January 19-22, 2023.
Hayes and her Thunder Bunny Racing teammates debuted the new Toyota Supra GT4, which they received just a few weeks prior to the event.
Thursday was a test day and effectively the first shake-down of the new equipment. Friday was qualifications and, despite limited track time and a completely new platform, Hayes qualified the No. 111 car on the front row for the first race of the weekend.
The first nine-hour race of the season began on Saturday morning with damp conditions, before the track dried late in the morning. Hayes drove a double stint to start the race. She kept the car at the front of the pack, leading her first laps of 2023 in the Supra.
Wet weather intervened during the afternoon, and made the race track tricky and treacherous. After smart driving from both of her teammates, Hayes was back in the car for the third stint. She kept the car near the front of the field and brought home a second-place, podium finish.
Sunday’s seven-hour endurance race started under similar track conditions. And once again, Hayes was behind the wheel for the start. She gained the lead early and stayed in contention while the rain subsided. Then, as it really started to dry out, she re-took the lead.
Hayes handed the wheel to her teammates, who kept the Thunder Bunny Racing Supra in the top five for the entire race. With one more stint to close, Hayes was hoping for the return of inclement weather. As she strapped into the car, she got her wish. Rain fell and made the track slippery.
She set her sights on gaining a position and took over fourth. As the checkered neared, she hunted down the third-place car and took the position. At race end, the team earned its second consecutive podium finish.
“Overall it was a great weekend with our new Toyota Supra GT4,” said Hayes. “We’ve had great support from Toyota so far. They clearly want these cars to succeed and have taken a strong interest in WRL. We’re already starting with a competitive car that’s a blast to drive, and with more development and the right tools, we’re only going to get faster.
“We always want to compete for the wins, but my co-drivers Bill and Jim did amazingly well their first time in the car this weekend. And we’re thrilled to start the season with some Momentum to take into the next races. This is such a stacked series with so many talented drivers, and we still have homework to do to develop this car, but we’re very optimistic for the rest of the season.”
Hayes and Thunder Bunny Racing will be back in action for the first-ever, “GT only” event of the World Racing League at Road Atlanta on February 10-12, 2023.