Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes competed in Rounds 1 and 2 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, earning a 19th place and 24th place finish, respectively, on January 27-28, 2022 at Daytona International Speedway.
Driving the No. 22 Mazda Motorsports MX-5 Cup car for Thunder Bunny Racing, Hayes made her rookie debut in what she described as a “character-building weekend” on the 3.56-mile, 12-turn road course.
The first practice of the season-opener weekend brought rain, tricky conditions and a steep learning curve for Hayes. While it initially appeared the second practice would be dry, rain began to fall as soon as the cars rolled out. Hayes ran 14th fastest on slick tires and dodged multiple cars going off track.
The weather cooperated for qualifying as Hayes worked on her drafting in the new car. A plethora of on-track incidents cut the session short, and although starting P28, she felt the car was quicker than the starting position reflected.
The first race was under the lights, again with rainy conditions. Hayes and her team set two goals: Bring the car home in one piece and earn a top-20 finish. She was able to accomplish both.
Race two was dry but multiple incidents caused most of the competition to be run under caution. Hayes started 19th and managed to avoid the melee until just the final few minutes, when the No. 22 car was hit from behind, sending it into another car. Her race ending prematurely, Hayes was disappointed for her crew but learned a lot to carry the team forward this season.
“It was extremely disappointing having survived all of the wet sessions and being that close to the checkers, but as they say, it was a character-building weekend,” said Hayes. “Being a new team with a rookie driver in a crazy competitive series is tough but we had realistic goals and expectations. We definitely met some of those goals and learned a lot.
“Daytona is such a wild card of a track to begin with for these types of cars, with the draft being such an unforgiving and massive component to a fast lap. The aggressive bump drafting was new for me and the racing itself is ruthless. These cars are a blast to drive and I learned an incredible amount about tires, setup, race craft, drafting, etc. Now that I know what to expect, I’m excited to get behind the wheel at St. Pete.”
In just under one month, Hayes will compete in Rounds 3-4 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida on February 25-27, 2022.