Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes and her Thunder Bunny Racing teammates won the second race of a double-header World Racing League weekend at Road America on May 13-14, 2023.
The second victory of the season continued the No. 111 team’s streak of being on the podium at least once every race weekend in 2023. Further, the win helped Hayes and her teammates maintain their lead in the GTO championship.
Meanwhile, three other Shift Up Now Athletes showcased their potential at Road America as well. Loni Unser, Sarah Montgomery and Erin Vogel drove the No. 997 entry for Round 3 Racing and despite their best efforts, struggled with car reliability issues.
Both teams took part in the test day on Thursday, and used the opportunity to set up their race cars for the fast and challenging Wisconsin race track. The cars were fast, giving both teams optimism for qualifying the following day.
On Friday, track conditions were cold and dry for qualifying. Hayes was one of the first to take advantage of the cool temperatures to lay down a lap that, even with traffic, would hold. She placed the purple Thunder Bunny Racing Toyota Supra GT4 on the outside of the front row for Saturday’s race.
A little later in the day, Montgomery would set the fastest lap of the day for the Round 3 Racing Porsche Cup Car entry. This qualified the team’s car in fourth place for Saturday.
Track temperatures were even cooler for the 8:00am start of race one, with some areas still damp from overnight dew. Hayes went to the lead at the first turn, but then dropped back to second place. She held the No. 111 there for the entirety of her double stint before handing the wheel over to her teammates.
In the No. 997, Montgomery had a cautious start. She worked to ensure that she took care of her car and not get caught out by anyone else’s mistakes. She moved forward as the race laps ticked by. At the end of her double stint, she was third in the GTO class and handed the car over to Vogel.
This driver change – and pit stop – took place under a full-course caution. Vogel left pit lane with the double yellow flags still waiving, and joined the line of cars behind the pace car. Unfortunately, the car overheated due to heat-soak from the pit stop, slow pace and lack of air to the radiators behind the other cars in line. Vogel made it back to pit lane, but the car’s over- heating meant it was turning all the water used for cooling into steam. The team had to wait for it to cool down before adding more water and getting back on track. The lengthy pit stop pulled the car out of contention for race one.
For the first time in 2023, Hayes’ Thunder Bunny Racing car was also starting to have issues on track. An overheating transmission caused the car to lose lap time and drop down in the order. The team was still able to hang on for a sixth-place finish, and valuable points towards the championship in the GTO class. But the frustration of what could have been was palpable for both of the Shift Up Now Athletes’ entries on Saturday evening.
Sunday brought another cold and slightly damp 8:00am start for race two. Once again, Hayes was starting on the front row, based on her lap times from Saturday’s race.
Vogel was behind the wheel first in the Round 3 Racing No. 997, rolling off once again right behind Hayes to take the green flag in P4.
Hayes quickly settled into the opening laps in second place, and then went to the front of the field before the end of her starting stint. Vogel had a slightly-tougher start to the race. She initially dropped back in the order, but got faster as her double stint went on. At the first driver, change she was inside the top ten when she handed the car over to Montgomery.
Montgomery was fast to get back up to speed in the No. 997, and continued to climb through the order, hunting down and passing the other GTO cars between her and the leaders. When she came to pit lane to hand the car over to Unser after her double stint, they had climbed as high as P5, and were one of the fastest cars on the race track every lap.
Unser also immediately got up to speed. But just three laps into her stint, the brake pedal went to the floor. Quick reactions, thinking and awareness helped her avoid an accident, protecting herself and the car in a scary situation. For the second consecutive race, the Round 3 Racing car had to go back to the garage.
Meanwhile, Hayes was back in the Toyota Supra GT4 for another stint, and hunting down the leaders. With just under two hours to go, she made the pass for the GTO lead and never looked back. When the checkered flag fell after seven hours of racing, Hayes had a six-second lead and the team’s second win of the season.
“Although we had some rare mechanical misfortune after a strong start Saturday, Sunday made up for it in a big way,” said Hayes. “Leaving Road America with two wins with each of our Toyota Supra GT4’s shows what kind of team we’re becoming. It wasn’t a perfect weekend but certainly the best in Thunder Bunny Racing’s history, and I could be happier for my team!”
Hayes, with her Thunder Bunny Racing team, and Unser, Montgomery and Vogel, with their Round 3 Racing team, are back in action for the 14-hour World Racing League event at Daytona International Speedway on June 9-10, 2023.