Shift Up Now Athletes Laura Hayes, Erin Vogel, Loni Unser and Sarah Montgomery competed in the first-ever, GT-only World Racing League (WRL) event on February 10-12, 2023 at Road Atlanta.
This was the second event of 2023 for Laura and her Thunder Bunny Racing (TBR) teammates. Despite the tricky track conditions, they extended their podium streak to four at the end of Sunday’s race.
Meanwhile, the all-female GTO team of Erin, Loni and Sarah made its 2023 track debut, driving for Round 3 Racing (R3R) and Bell Techlogix.
This inaugural WRL event included some torrential rain, making for exceedingly difficult track conditions on both racing days.
Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions were cold and dry, and marked the first time both Loni and Erin would have track time in the R3R BMW M4GT4. Both drivers ran multiple sessions, working to get comfortable and adapt in the new environment. Then Sarah Montgomery, with prior experience in the platform, qualified the team just inside the top 15 for their first-ever race as trio.
Friday’s practice sessions also gave Laura’s team the chance to make their podium-finishing Toyota Supra GT4 from NOLA even faster. And against an even bigger field of entries, Laura qualified in P5 for Saturday’s race.
The nine-hour endurance race started on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. ET. Sarah and Laura both had the honor of taking the green flag for their respective teams. Both had strong starts to the race.
Laura was asked to complete a maximum drive-time stint of four hours. During that time, she drove the Thunder Bunny Supra to the lead of the race. And then the forecasted rain arrived. Sprinkles dampened the track at first, making it slick and slippery, followed by a downpour with just over one hour left in the race.
Laura was asked to take the wheel once more during the most difficult track conditions of the day. A full-course caution came out with 20 minutes to go and extended all the way through the checkered flag. Laura held onto a P3 spot and and her TBR team extended their podium streak to three races in a row.
Sarah passed six cars on the first lap, and maintained position inside the top ten for her two-hour, double stint. She then handed the car over in P7 to teammate Erin, who would also run a double stint before Loni got behind the wheel. The BMW M4GT4 ran as high as P5 on the timing charts.
Due to ongoing supply-chain issues with raw materials, R3R did not have an appropriate wet tire available to handle the conditions. As the most experienced driver in the M4GT4, Sarah was called to make an attempt at bringing the car home in one piece, with dry weather tires on an incredibly wet race track. She and her teammates secured a top-ten finish in their debut outing, despite the weather and track challenges.
On Sunday, the seven-hour endurance race started under almost monsoon-like conditions. With no solution to the rain tire problem, R3R decided to start the race, but then elected to retire the car due to the continued risk.
For the second consecutive day, Laura started behind the wheel of the TBR Supra and drove a two-hour stint until the quiet hour break at 10:00 a.m. ET. Fighting in the top five for most of her stint in the treacherous conditions, she was happy to hand the car over to her teammates in contention for another podium finish.
As the race track dried, Laura was once again called upon to drive with two and half hours to go. In what she later described as one of the hardest drives she’s ever put in, she set about climbing back up the GTO order while the sun finally shone on Road Atlanta. Her drive through the field was rewarded with a third place finish, the team’s fourth in a row.
“I’m really happy with the consistency and progression of our new Toyota Supra GT4,” said Laura. “The car is still a handful in the wet, and it’s a very demanding car to drive physically and mentally, but I’m thrilled with our pace, and I think we could have one of the cars to beat this year. Four podiums in a row is a dream start to the season, and I’m thrilled that we’re leading the points.
“I also want to shout out to our Supra ‘teammates’ at Hittman Racing, and congratulate them on their win on Sunday. They’ve been a huge help to us getting this car into the performance window, and we’re looking forwards to getting our first win of 2023 soon.”
Laura’s season with TBR continues with the next WRL event at Barber Motorsports Park on March 3-5, 2023. Sarah, Loni and Erin will return for the second race of their season with R3R at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on April 7-9, 2023.