On September 6th, at Virginia International Raceway, Loni Unser and the driving team in the Round 3 Racing Shell V Power Team Cooper Tire Porsche Boxster #601 scored their second win of the season in the GP2 class. The win earned them enough points to capture the World Racing League Eastern Championship by two points.
For the final event of the Eastern Championship, Round 3 Racing had three cars entered into the event in the GP2 class. Two of the cars, the #601 and the #602, were in the hunt for the WRL Eastern Championship. Sarah Montgomery would once again be behind the wheel of the silver #602 Shell V Power entry alongside Round 3 Racing team-owners Buz and Brad McCall, while Loni Unser would continue to share the #601 Team Cooper Tire Porsche Boxster with Mo Dadkhah and Mike Gilbert. The third entry marked the return of the Shell Fuel Rewards #604 Road Warrior Porsche Boxster and the return of Shea Holbrook, alongside James Candelaria and Christian Maloof.
With a smaller engine displacement than some of the other class competitors, but with an extremely nimble chassis, the entire team hoped that the crests and curves of Virginia International Raceway would play to the strengths of the Round 3 Racing Shell V Power Porsche Boxsters, and make the most of their Cooper RS3-R Tires. During Friday practice and qualifying, Sarah Montgomery immediately made good on this, scoring her second pole of the season in the silver Shell V Power #602 “Rocket”.
Saturday morning dawned bright and cool in Virginia for the start of the first endurance race of the weekend—a 9 hour race from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 at night. As the green flag flew, the only view anyone else in the GP2 field saw for the first three plus hours of the race were Sarah Montgomery’s tail lights as she managed to put three laps on everyone else in the class during her heroic opening stint. Still searching for that magic first win of the season for the silver Round 3 Racing “Rocket” entry, everyone thought this might be the day, but after the driver changes took place, misfortune once again befell the Shell V Power #602, and a necessary visit to the garage lost laps and dropped the car down the order.
However the Shell Fuel Rewards #604 Road Warrior and #601 Team Cooper Tire Bandit kept posting fast lap times and gaining good fuel economy over their rivals with the Shell V Power fuel. With 90 minutes to go, it looked like a double podium for two of the Round 3 Racing cars might be possible. Super mom Shea Holbrook was called on by her team-mates to climb in for a second monster stint to close out the race in the #604 and secure her second World Racing League win of the season, while Loni Unser, Mo Dadkhah and Mike Gilbert rounded out the podium with a third place finish.
“I’m so proud of our team, all of our drivers, and all of our cars,” said Brad McCall after the first race. “But I’m also gutted for Sarah, and the silver #602 Shell V Power Rocket. She keeps putting us in a position to win races, and we have to figure out how to close one of these out… Having two cars on the podium in one race is a pretty nice feat, but tomorrow we want it to be all three.”
Yet, on Sunday morning, before the second race even started, it was immediately clear that the team owner’s wish was not to be. As the Team Cooper Tire #601 and the Shell Fuel Rewards #604 lined up on the grid for seven hours of racing, the silver Shell V Power rocket remained in the garage with an ECU issue. Helmets went on, drivers climbed into their cars, the pace lap started, the green flag waved, but the #602 remained stationary, silent, and still as the field went racing without her.
Shea Holbrook and Loni Unser were both starting drivers for the other two Round 3 Racing entries for the start of race 2, and both spent their stints racing to the front of the field. Holbrook drove a single stint in the #604 Fuel Rewards Road Warrior before handing over the car to James Candelaria at the first pit stop in first place, while Unser took a yellow early in the race to splash with fuel, going off strategy and extending her stint into the race before handing over the #601 Team Cooper Tire Porsche Boxster in P3.
With two different strategies unfolding across the two cars, the race ebbed and flowed, but ultimately came down to the last round of pit-stops, driver changes, and on track stints. At this point in the race, it became clear that the Round 3 Racing Team Cooper Tire #601 Porsche Boxster was also in contention for the Eastern Championship as well as the race win. The decision was made by that team to leave Mike Gilbert in the car at the final stop, and simply fuel, rather than risking a driver change, and Gilbert responded with an iron-man drive, setting lap times that matched his best of the weekend.
The Shell Fuel Rewards #604 Road Warrior team decided on the opposing strategy of a driver change to finish out the race, hoping that Shea Holbrook might be able to take the fight for the win to their sister car in the closing stages. However, she was unable to bridge the gap to the charging Gilbert, and he took the checkered flag for the Team Cooper Tire #601 Shell V Power car, winning not only the race, but also winning the World Racing League GP2 Eastern Championship, along with his team-mates Mo Dadkhah and Loni Unser.
“To win races in this series, you have to execute impeccably,” said Unser. We knew going into the final race of the weekend that we had to win to stand a chance of winning the Eastern Championship, and both my team-mates Mo and Mike were fast, and flawless under pressure. Winning this race, and wrapping up the Eastern Championship with Round 3 Racing, Team Cooper Tire, Shell and Shift Up Now is a very special feeling. I not only want to thank all of our crew who work so hard every weekend to prepare these cars, but also my team-mates Shea Holbrook and Sarah Montgomery for their guest appearances in the #601 throughout this season. This was a very special weekend.”
The next event for Round 3 Racing is at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on October 23-25 with American Endurance Racing. Mid-Ohio is the home track for Cooper Tire and welcomes an excellent opportunity for R3R and Cooper Tire to showcase the Cooper RS3-R DOT race tire on their home turf. Shift Up Now racers and R3R regulars, Sarah Montgomery and Loni Unser, will be in their familiar seats in #601 and #602 for that event with their usual driver lineup.
Round 3 Racing will be back with WRL for the season finale at COTA in early December, where they hope to be in the hunt for the National Championship.