Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes earned her third victory of the season in the GTO class of the World Racing League championship on Saturday, July 8th at VIRginia International Raceway. She followed it up with a second-place finish on Sunday, July 9th, marking her ninth podium finish of the season.
Practice and qualifying for the double-header weekend took place on Friday under hot and humid conditions. Most of the fastest times were set early, in the first session of the day. As track temperatures rose on the 3.27-mile, 17-turn track, lap times slowed and teams changed focus to preparing for race day.
Hayes set a fast enough time on her new Yokohama tire run to put her car on the front row for race one. So the team spent their remaining practice time getting Hayes’ teammate Bill Graham up to speed in the Thunder Bunny Racing (TBR) Toyota Supra GT4.
Race one started on Saturday morning at 8:30am. The purple No. 111 Supra led the field to green from the pole position for the nine-hour race. For the first time this season, Hayes was not the starting driver. Instead, she watched from the timing stand as her teammate took the fight to the field.
At the first driver change, Hayes took the wheel for the first of her two long stints, during which she brought the TBR Supra GT4 from P19 up through the field. By the halfway point of the race, she was back in the lead.
Approaching her maximum drive time for a stint, Hayes handed the car to Graham. She then rehydrated and regrouped in preparation for the final push at the end of the race.
With approximately three hours left on the clock, she was back in the driver’s seat. By consolidating the advantage TBR had built throughout the race, Hayes brought home the team’s third win of the season.
Rain and severe weather threatened the start of the second race, and brought sweltering conditions on Sunday morning. The No. 111 Supra GT4 rolled off from P3 for the seven-hour competition.
Sticking with the same strategy as Saturday, Hayes watched the start unfold from the timing stand. She then took the wheel during the first scheduled pit stop for a quick, 90-minute stint. Graham maintained the P3 position during his stint, and with just over two hours to go, the race was halted as the severe weather arrived.
Once the worst of the storm had passed, the team nominated Hayes to be behind the wheel on the now very wet, slippery race track.
When the race restarted, six cars were still on the lead lap. As the field circulated behind the pace car, many teams chose to pit for full wet tires. This cycled the No. 111 back to the lead. Although the team debated following suit to switch to wet tires, maintaining track position won the decision.
When the green flag flew, Hayes battled hard with Aaron Poveldo in the NFC Motorsports Mercedes. The two cars swapped the lead for 30 minutes as they worked through traffic. Ultimately, the Mercedes horsepower prevailed and the TBR Supra settled for a second-place finish, the teams ninth podium of the season after 11 races.
“So much happened today, with the rain and the race track drying again,” said Hayes. “We really wanted that second win this weekend, and when it was full wet, we had the stronger car. But when it dried out, we just didn’t quite have enough for them.
“It was a great weekend for the points. We extended our championship lead, and it says a lot about our season that we’re disappointed with a second-place finish today. This is a tough championship. It takes a lot to win these races and stand on the podium, and I can’t quite believe we’ve done it nine times now this year.
“I can’t thank our tire partners, Yokohama – and our entire team at Thunder Bunny – enough for another great effort for the season. We’re definitely ready for the summer break in the action and we’re already looking forward to NJMP in the fall!”
Hayes will return to action with her Thunder Bunny Racing team at the New Jersey Motorsports Park for the last round of the World Racing League “regular” season on September 29 – October 1, 2023.