Podium Finish for Hayes, Top-Ten Finish for AE Victory Racing at Barber

March 6, 2024

Five Shift Up Now athletes competed this weekend on Yokohama tires in variable weather conditions and produced a solid two days of successful racing with World Racing League (WRL) at Barber Motorsports Park.

Ready to defend their title, 2023 WRL GTO champions Laura Hayes and Thunder Bunny Racing hit the ground running at Barber, using the momentum from last season to immediately get to work in their Toyota Supra Evo on Yokohama tires.

With rainy weather throughout the day hampering Friday’s qualifying and causing a number of single-car incidents, Hayes and her co-drivers were among those affected and chose to move to a backup car.

Over in the AE Victory Racing camp, Erin Vogel and Team Shift Up Now came into their season opener with confidence for improvement in the car’s pace, following a pre-season test two weeks prior at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California.

However, due to the rain and misfortune of neighboring teams, Friday’s plan to fine-tune the setup was stymied when the team decided not to risk the car by chasing track conditions that would bear no resemblance to Saturday’s forecast.

Fast Track Racing and Pippa Mann came to Barber Motorsports Park with two rookies competing in their first ever WRL races. With no prior WRL experience at the Alabama racetrack, the team tested two weeks prior in frigid temperatures and were confident of a good race car for the cold weather.

Despite the work done in testing, the start of Saturday’s race in the rain proved to be a struggle for the black and yellow BMW M4 GT4, affectionately named “Bumble-Bee”, but as the race track started to dry out the team began to turn competitive lap times.

As the race progressed, a refueling issue which was unable to be resolved during the weekend dropped them down the order. The No. 926 finished just outside the top 10 in GTO at the end of 8 hours on Saturday, with a clean race for all the drivers and no penalties - a successful debut for the two rookies running alongside Mann.

Meanwhile, the No. 225 Thunder Bunny Racing Toyota Supra started race 1 on Saturday from P19, with Hayes behind the wheel.

Charging through an extremely competitive GTO class, she and her co-drivers navigated the drying track and brought home a P3 finish, to secure their first podium of the 2024 season in their first race of the season.

Following Saturday's race, the Thunder Bunny Racing crew discovered that the backup car was running about 20hp down from the car they had originally been set to run, and they were fortunately able to remedy the issue in preparation for Sunday’s race.

For AE Victory Racing, keeping the car parked on Friday meant the No. 119 Audi R8 LMS GT4 would start from nearly the back of the field, and that both Vogel and newcomer Hannah Greenemeier would be seeing the track from the driver’s seat for the first time during their race stints on Saturday.

Sarah Montgomery started Saturday’s race on a very wet track, and in the first lap charged from P23 to P9. She held position until the track began to dry, handing the wheel first to Erin Vogel and then Hannah Greenemeier for double stints.

The two Barber neophytes quickly got up to speed on the track, settling in around P15 for much of the afternoon. Vogel jumped back in behind the wheel for the final hour, to take the checker in P12 in the GTO class.

On Sunday, on a dry racetrack, the changes the Fast Track Racing team made to the car overnight proved to be a step in the right direction, increasing the pace for all three drivers.

The Yokohama-shod black and yellow BMW fought inside the top ten until the refueling issue reared its ugly head. At the restart of the race after the quiet hour, the team was involved in their first contact of the weekend, and two pit-stops were needed to address the damage.

Despite a penalty for the contact, the team continued running top ten lap times, with a second finish just outside the points at Sunday’s checker.

Taking advantage of the better weather conditions on Sunday, Hayes brought more of her signature, consistently-quick pace in the blue and black Supra.

After leading the race both overall and in the GTO class for much of the day, the drivers of the No. 225 attained their second podium of 2024, this time standing proudly on the second step in P2.

“We had to fight really hard there at the end to stay on the podium,” Hayes told Shift Up Now. “The competition this year is tough! There were three of us battling in the final three hours. Our pit-stops were perfect, and I drove my tail off with the third place car hounding me for the last couple of hours! We were just able to out-pace them in the end. It was super intense and very fun! It felt like a win after the issues we had Friday and Saturday.”

With Sunday’s result doubling down a top-five result, Hayes and Thunder Bunny Racing scored valuable championship points in their first races of the 2024 WRL season.

AE Victory Racing’s set up changes overnight combined with the drivers’ fast learning curve showed promise for Sunday’s race. This time, Greenemeier took the green flag, running a clean double stint into the mandated quiet hour.

Vogel commanded the early afternoon portion of the race, handing the Audi to Montgomery for the finish. With a solid two hours of driving, Montgomery charged from outside of the top ten into P9 in GTO, crossing the line in the points for the first time in the team’s short history.

"I'm so proud of the whole team for their excellent work this weekend,” Vogel commented. “The crew did a great job giving us the best car we've had yet, making great strategy calls to jump quickly into action and use caution periods for our pit stops, and executing superb work in the fueling and tire changes.

“Sarah is a rockstar behind the wheel and used her many years of experience at this track to move the car up the order in each of her stints. Hannah made an incredible debut in her endurance racing career, executing clean stints and pit stops throughout the weekend, and gaining valuable experience in large fields of GT4 machinery to great up for her GT4 America debut next month.

“As a rookie team owner, I’m very happy with our progress this weekend. We plan to do more testing mid-March to continue dialing in the setup prior to the next race. We know that’s our current weakness, as our driver lineups clearly have front-running pace. Everyone should expect to see us up at the pointy end of the field once we get our heads around the Audi platform!"

Hayes, Vogel, and Montgomery will compete with World Racing League again April 5-7, 2024, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

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