Shift Up Now Athlete Laura Hayes earned her first World Racing League (WRL) win of the season for Thunder Bunny Racing (TBR) in the GTO class on Sunday, March 6th at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
The third event of the 2023 WRL season featured two consecutive days of endurance racing. Nine hours of racing on Saturday and seven on Sunday marked the fifth and sixth events of the season.
Following her streak of four consecutive podiums, Hayes and her TBR team entered the event with their eyes on the top step and a goal of achieving their first win.
Thunderstorms impacted practice and qualifying sessions, giving teams only two dry sessions to work on car setup. Despite this, Hayes qualified the TBR No. 111 EPC Power Toyota Supra GT4 on the front row.
On Saturday, she took the start and immediately started to pull a gap on the field. An early caution allowed the team to go off strategy with minimal track position lost. Hayes regained the lead before the end of her first stint. She continued to extend the advantage over the next two hours before handing the car over to her teammates.
With two stints to go, the Toyota Supra GT4 was still on the lead lap. Hayes climbed back in and began to chase down the leaders. She made the pass for the lead with 20 minutes to go and controlled the pace to the finish to take the checkered flag first in GTO, and overall.
However, the joy from the team’s first win of the season was short-lived. Following a protest, the TBR Supra was found to be over in fuel capacity by 0.4 gallons.
“We truly enjoyed the race today, and we are saddened that our mistake cost us our first win of the season,” said Justin Fouts, Owner of Thunder Bunny Racing and Crew Chief of the No. 111 car. “We want to thank WRL for working hard to maintain an even playing field, and congratulate then podium finishers. We’ll work tonight, and come back and try to win the race tomorrow.”
After Saturday’s disappointing result, their fastest lap of the race was invalidated. Hayes and her TBR team would start Sunday’s seven-hour race from the back of the GTO field.
Once again, Hayes took the start. She made the pass for the lead 90 minutes into the competition and never looked back. Her teammates took the wheel for the middle stints, then Hayes was back in the car to finish. The team earned a triumphant finish with a one-lap margin over the second-place finisher.
“I knew, going into Barber, this was our time,” said Hayes. “My first goal was putting the car on pole and that was a nail-biter after all the crazy weather with one chance to get it done.
“Saturday’s race will be one for the memory books. It was a real battle to the end. I think we won by less than two seconds after nine hours. Unfortunately, we made a miscalculation with our fuel capacity so we were disqualified. We regrouped and let’s say everyone had a bit of extra motivation to dominate Sunday.
“It wasn’t easy, we had to start from the back, luck fell our way a couple of times when we needed it, and my entire team executed exactly when they needed to. A big thanks to my co- drivers, Bill and Jim, for being unbelievable team players, and my guys for doing what they do best. We’re still riding high, and can’t wait to bring two Toyota Supra’s to the WRL field at Mid Ohio coming up next.”
Shift Up Now Athlete Pippa Mann also made her WRL season debut at Barber Motorsports Park with the TLM Racing team. Along with father-and-son teammates Brian O’Shaugnessy and Zang O’Shaugnessy, Mann was piloting the No. 888 Aston Martin GT4 in the GTO class.
The trio qualified the car for Saturday’s race in fifth place.
Zang O’Shaugnessy started Saturday’s race in the TLM Racing Aston Martin, then handed it over to his father Brian before Mann dropped into the car third. The team finished fourth in the race, however after Hayes’ TBR team received the disqualification in post-race tech, Mann’s TLM Racing team was promoted to the podium.
It was a bittersweet experience for Mann.
“Zang drove a fantastic race today,” said Mann. “And I’m thrilled he was able to get his first podium finish in this series today after such a stellar drive. However, I’m gutted for Laura. She also drove an incredible race today, and hopefully we’ll both be here tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, the TLM Racing team had to retire the No. 888 car during Sunday’s race. The next WRL competition takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on April 7-9, 2023.