Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes earned back-to-back second place finishes in the GTO class of the World Racing League (WRL) at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 29 - October 1, 2023.
Driving the No. 111 purple and white Toyota Supra GT4 for Thunder Bunny Racing (TBR), Hayes extended her impressive streak, acquiring her tenth and eleventh podium finishes of the 2023 season.
On Friday, Hayes was immediately on pace during the first timed practice session. Later that day, she made good use of a new set of Yokohama tires to claim a third place starting position for race one.
Saturday’s eight-hour endurance race began with Hayes behind the wheel, starting from the inside of row two. By the halfway point, it was only her and two other cars remaining on the lead lap.
The No. 111 Thunder Bunny Racing Supra was running in second place, just five seconds off the lead. Throughout pit stops and during the second half of the race, Hayes and her teammates cycled through the lead twice. But ultimately, they se]led for second place when the checkered flag fell, earning their tenth podium of the season.
The fastest lap from Saturday’s race set the grid for Sunday’s seven-hour endurance race. Once again, Hayes would be behind the wheel at the start, starting from the inside of row two.
This time, however, she immediately took the lead when the green flag fell and would hold that spot throughout her entire stint. After the first pit stop, slower class traffic started to play a part as a game of cat-and-mouse ensued. Hayes briefly dropped back to second place but then reclaimed the lead before handing the car over to her teammates.
The Thunder Bunny Racing team continued to lead unXl approximately 100 laps were left. Quite a few cars remained on the lead lap, and the No. 111 briefly dropped back to fourth place. However, a strong pit stop sequence helped them regain P2.
Then, after a strong double-stint from one of Hayes’ teammates, the Supra returned to the lead for another extended period. When Hayes took the wheel to close out the race in the final stint, the team was running in third.
With fresh tires on the left side after her final pit stop, she made short work of moving back into second place and began to hunt the leaders. With 10 laps to go, she was right on the tail of the lead car, looking for an opening to make her signature late pass for the lead. Her attempts were thwarted when she and caught out of class traffic in the final turns of the last lap. Hayes may have settled for a second-place finish just 0.3 seconds behind the winner, but she and her teammates earned their eleventh podium finish of the season.
In the championship hunt, the closest competitor to Hayes and Thunder Bunny Racing finished in fourth place on Sunday. This meant the teammates were able to defend the GTO championship lead yet again.
"After a few-month hiatus, it was nice to pick up where we left off,” said Hayes. “On Saturday, we double podiumed for the first time in TBR's history, finishing second in our No. 111 Toyota Supra GT4, and third with our new customers in their No. 766 Supra. An impressive debut!
“Sunday's race went mostly green, so it came down to on-track pace and perfect execution in the pits. My crew performed perfectly, and my teammates handed me a car to fight with at the end. I gave my absolute best up against Aaron Povoledo in his Mercedes. He made it tough and was mistake free - just like a pro would drive. I really wanted the win for my guys, and I think we had the entire WRL paddock on their feet there at the end, but without a doubt that's the most fun I've had behind the wheel in a long time."
Hayes and the Thunder Bunny Racing will look to clinch the championship during the penultimate event of the 2024 World Racing League season, taking place at Sebring International Raceway on November 10-12, 2023.