Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes earned a third-place finish in the GTO class of the World Racing League (WRL) championship at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, June 10, 2023.
Hayes, piloting the No. 111 Toyota Supra on Yokohama Tires for Thunder Bunny Racing, was one of five Shift Up Now Athletes competing in the GTO class for the notorious 14-hour event on the high-banked racetrack.
Pippa Mann returned to the drivers seat of the No. 888 Aston Martin GT4 for TLM Racing, alongside team owner David Tuaty, and car owner Brian O’Shaughnessy. This was the second of four WRL outings planned for this season.
With Loni Unser taking part in testing for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Ayla Agren was drafted to the Round 3 Racing team. She joined Erin Vogel and Sarah Montgomery behind the wheel of the No. 997 Cooper Tires Porsche Cup Car.
Practice and qualifying took place on Friday under sunny skies and warm temperatures. Hayes and teammates were coming off their second win of the season and had earned a podium finish at every event so far.
During the final track session of the day, a rainstorm interrupted qualifying. Both Hayes and Mann were able to qualify inside the top ten of the 30-car GTO field. They would line up fifth and tenth, respectively, to start the race on Saturday morning.
Technical difficulties kept the all-female team from turning laps in the No. 997 entry during qualifying. Late in the day, the team made the decision to switch Vogel, Montgomery and Agren to the No. 702 Porsche Cayman entry. Without having turned qualifying laps, the team would line up at the back of the GTO field.
On Saturday morning, the full field of 70 cars took the green flag at 8:00am ET for 14 hours of racing.
Hayes hung out and saved fuel for the first hour of the race. She then settled into an effective rhythm, working her way to the front. After running a double stint, she had advanced to the lead and handed the purple Thunder Bunny Racing No. 111 over to her teammates. They kept the car in contention for the next four hours, until lightening halted the race.
In the Round 3 Racing camp, Montgomery was behind the wheel for the first stint in the No. 702 Team Cooper Tire Porsche Cayman. As the team moved through pit stop cycles and driver changes, they began climbing the oder in the GTO field.
Mann was the second driver in the TLM Racing No. 888 Aston Martin. Team owner Tuaty drove a double stint to start, then Mann followed up with a double stint after the second pit stop. She then handed the car over to O’Shaugnessy in P5.
Less than one hour later, the first of two tire issues occurred. The second would happen two hours later when a total tire failure tore apart the car’s rear bumper. This caused a lengthy stop for repairs on pit lane, just before the lightening halted the action on track.
When the first severe weather delay occurred, the Round 3 Racing trio was inside the top 15. Once the race resumed, they continued their forward progress. Just as they reached P11 with their sights set inside the top ten, an engine issue caused them to retire the car.
After a team discussion during the lightning delay, Mann’s TLM Racing team decided it was necessary to switch to another tire manufacturer. One of the other teams was able to supply Mann’s team with a set of unused Yokohama tires. With a safe, fast tire now secured, the Aston Martin was set to continue racing after the lightening delay.
Once the weather cleared, Mann was the second driver back in the car. As the TLM Racing team kept their focus on recovery, Mann set the fastest laps of the weekend, then handed the car back to Tuaty inside the top ten. He continued the progress and was P9 in the GTO class when the second red flag was thrown for severe weather.
For the Thunder Bunny Racing team, the plan was for Hayes to drive a double stint after the lightning delay to close out the race. However, when the race never restarted, the results were final. Despite feeling like they might have had the opportunity to advance, the No. 111 teammates were content in their sixth consecutive podium finish for the season.
“Daytona treated our Toyota Supra well,” said Hayes. “So many factors have to come together to win these races or even finish in the top five, so I’m really pleased we ended up with third.
“We love racing against teams like Hittman and GTR. We’ve all elevated one another’s game this season both on and off track. We race hard but have a mutual respect and are genuinely happy for each other when we see our friends and competitors get results. I don’t know where you can race in a series as competitive as WRL and also get to share the podium with your friends.
“We didn’t quite have the pace to beat them this weekend, but we’re coming for them at VIR!”
The next two rounds of World Racing League action will take place at VIRginia International Raceway on July 7-9, 2023.