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WRL: Loni Unser & Sabré Cook sweep COTA weekend, Round 3 Racing seals national titles

With another clean sweep in the World Racing League's season finale at COTA, Sabré Cook and Loni Unser secured Round 3 Racing a class title in the GP1 class. Two podiums were enough also for Hannah Grisham, who claimed the GP3 class national title.

Photo credits: LowShutterMedia

The final double-header of the American popular endurance series World Racing League resulted in another dominant performance for Round 3 Racing and Shift Up Now athletes, who ended the 2022 season on a high. At the home of the F1 US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, the World Racing League in fact hosted its two final 8-hour races of a busy 11-event championship across some of the best North American racing venues. The series has provided a competitive platform to several talented female drivers, with female-forward collective Shift Up Now partnering with top team Round 3 Racing: the Illinois-based organization has in fact regularly lined up many female drivers, including Hannah Grisham, Sarah Montgomery and Loni Unser throughout 2022. At the previous round in Sebring, on the first weekend of November, Round 3 Racing made headlines for its star-studded and first ever all-female line up: GT3 racer Erin Vogel, former W Series driver Sabré Cook and WRL regular Loni Unser swept the weekend at the wheel of the #701 Cooper Tires Porsche Cayman in the GP1 class. It was also a particularly important race for Sabré Cook, who made her return to racing after a year-long recovery from an injury. The class victories helped Loni Unser and Hannah Grisham secured Eastern Championship titles in the GP1 and GP3 categories. Coming off a five-win streak, Round 3 Racing entered the final round at Circuit of the Americas confident of carrying momentum with all its line-ups. Having taken the #401 Team Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4 to debut last year at the same track, Sarah Montgomery targeted a strong end of the season after qualifying on pole for six consecutive race weekends. "My team and I have had a pretty great year this 2022 season," said Montgomery – who shared the #401 BMW with Brad McCall and Cole Loftsgard – before the race meeting . "We had our first outing in the BMW at this race last year and were able to get some of the kinks out before starting this season. I hope to finish the year with another great race full of trophies and great times with friends." In the #701 Porsche Cayman, Loni Unser partnered again Sabré Cook, while Brian Ghidinelli joined the two female drivers for the first time, switching from the #609 BMW to the Cooper Tires entry. With two wins in Sebring - as well as three podiums at Barber, Road America and VIR – the #701 Porsche led the GP1 national championship ahead of the final double-header. “I'm so excited to have support from Hagerty and Shift Up Now to do my second race with Round 3 Racing” – said Sabré Cook, eager to repeat her successful WRL debut in Austin. “Everyone at Round 3 is such a pleasure to work with and COTA is always a fun and beautiful place to race, so I'm certainly looking forward to it. The team and I had great success with our wins at Sebring so we will focus on fighting for that top step again!” At the wheel of the #605 Team hagerty Drivers Club Porsche Boxster in the GP3 class, Hannah Grisham shared the wheel with Carter Pease, Dennis Neel and Buz McCall, also fighting for the national championship strong of six wins and two podiums this season which put the #605 just 14 points behind the class leader. “I am very excited for the last WRL race of the season in the Hagerty Drivers Club Porsche Boxster with Round 3 Racing,” said Grisham. “It is going to be a tense weekend fighting for the national championship." "I think we can bring it home, we just need a clean weekend and strong stints! I can’t thank the McCalls, Hagerty and Shift Up Now enough for helping me stay in a car this season!” Unser, Cook, Montgomery and Grisham were joined on the WRL grid by more female racers – including Shift Up Now's Laura Hayes, W Series rookie Chloe Chambers and F4 US driver Maddie Aust, at her very first race in sports cars. On Friday, practice was disrupted by fog and poor visibility – which left teams and drivers with most of the work to find the perfect balance and setups in the afternoon's qualifying. In a 95-car field, Sabré Cook started the first 8-hour race on Saturday from third on the grid and moved up to second place in the GP1 class aboard the #701 Team Cooper Tires Porsche Cayman after a triple stint, before passing the helm to Loni Unser. Unser was able to further climb into the class lead, before handing over to Brian Ghidinelli for the final stint. The team opted to pit the car for a splash of fuel in the final 30 minutes of racing – which forced Ghidinelli to a last lap recovery over the Morehead BMW – but the #701 could eventually score its fourth consecutive win of the season. The Round 3 Racing strategy in fact had played out perfectly, as the BMW was short on fuel and had to slow down on the final lap. The #401 Hagerty Motorsports BMW took the start from fifth on the grid after a wet qualifying session on Friday. Cole Loftsgard was first behind the wheel, while Brad McCall drove the middle stint. They kept the car inside the top ten throughout the race, handing over to Sarah Montgomery for the final double-stint of the race while in fifth place. Montgomery held position and crossed the finish line in P5 in the 40-car GT0 category, securing the sixth top-5 of their season. Also in the GT0 field, Laura Hayes raced her Thunder Bunny Racing's BMW M2 CS Racing in the opening triple stint of Saturday's race, starting from P16 on the grid. Hayes – who has also contested her rookie season in the massively competitive Mazda MX-5 Cup – made it back into the top ten after the first round of pit stop – when she also temporarily slotted into the lead – before handing the wheel over to her teammates, who crossed the finish line in P7. In the GP3 class, Hannah Grisham and her teammates had to pull off a recovery drive to claim their eighth podium after the #605 Team Hagerty Drivers Club Porsche Boxster had slipped down the order early in the race after starting third. With consistent running, though, Dennis Neel and Carter Pease could navigate through the field and hand over to Grisham – who drove the final segment – while back in contention for a podium. Grisham was flawless and kept it in third place.

Photo credits: LowShutterMedia

On Sunday, the skies cleared, but temperature remained cold. Race 1 winner Loni Unser started the second 8-hour race again from third place and held position throughout her stint before Sabré Cook took over in the #701 Team Cooper Tire Cayman. While she found herself in fourth after a caution, the driver from Colorado was able to make her way up to third once again. Halfway through the race, Ghidinelli battled in the podium positions but could hand back to Cook for the final stints in second. Helped by strong strategy by the team, Sabré clinched the class lead with one hour to go, survived a late caution and crossed the finish line in first place, marking the entry's fifth win in a row – and her fourth in just as many races – sealing the national championship title. “This season was very special to me because I got to share the car with three Shift Up Now Athletes,” said Unser. “And every race, I shared the car with either Erin Vogel, Sabre Cook or Alyla Argren, our team finished no lower than second place." "To me, that drives home the point that men and women can compete as equals" – she continued. "I’m endlessly grateful to Round 3 Racing for creating a team environment where success is achieved through such dedication and passion for the sport. To get to partner with brands like Hagerty, Cooper Tire and Pep Boys makes our successes even better because of the passion we all share for the love of driving." – Unser concluded. There were high chances of victory also for Hannah Grisham in the GP3 class, as the #605 Team Hagerty Drivers Club Porsche Boxster remained in contention for a win almost throughout Sunday's race. From the second row of the grid, Grisham got in the driver's seat after a caution, taking over from Pease. Grisham drove up to the race lead and opened a gap to second-placed in class – but a late sequence of yellow flags did not play in their favor, as the Hagerty Drivers Club Boxster was third across the finish line. Third place, though, was enough to seal the National title – the second consecutive – after 6 wins out of 11 races. It was also Hannah Grisham's final race with Round 3 Racing, having won the selections for The Heart of Racing: Grisham will in fact join Rianna O'Meara Hunt at the wheel of the team's Aston Martin GT4 in the SRO GT4 America SprintX season.

“What an amazing end to the season coming home with the National Championship,” said Grisham. “I can’t thank Round Three Racing, Shift Up Now and Hagerty enough for the last two years. They have been nothing short of amazing." “I am leaving the weekend with a very bittersweet feeling", she continued. "Getting to be on a team with so many of my Shift Up Now teammates has been so refreshing and highly enjoyable. The entire team has become like family and although I am sad to leave, I am very excited for my opportunities next year with The Heart of Racing. This platform set me up and prepared me for what’s to come next year in SRO GT4 America.”

Photo credits: LowShutterMedia

Having suffered a mechanical issue before the final race of the season, Sarah Montgomery soon found herself at the bottom end of the GT0 field on Sunday, having to make repeated trips to the pit lane. She recovered over 24 positions throughout her stint, but the issue continued to hamper her race and Montgomery eventually handed over to McCall right before a full course yellow. As her teammates fought back into the class top ten, Sarah Montgomery closed the race with the final stint, taking the chequered flag in P12 after a late penalty. While it was a tough end of the season for the #401 Team Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4, Montgomery still finished the season with five podiums and fifth in the overall standings. In the same class, Laura Hayes started the race with a double stint which ended with the #111 Thunder Bunny Racing's BMW M2 just within the top ten. Unfortunately, they would end just outside the top ten in P11. It was stronger day for Chloe Chambers: the 18-year-old racer – at her second year in race cars – has been competing both in single-seaters and GT cars and, at the wheel of the #770 Monoflo International Porsche GT4 Cayman, she finished eighth in Sunday's race despite a tyre puncture and heavy fuel saving. After a radiator failure on Saturday, Chambers could therefore round out her season with a top ten in the GP0 class. There was a lot to learn for young racer Madison Aust, making her very first start in endurance racing and in a multiclass competition. Nevertheless, Aust – who has raced in both F4 US and in selected rounds of the USF Juniors – made the most out of the learning experience and was P13 on Saturday and P15 on Sunday, at the wheel of the #125 Fast Track Racing BMW M4 GT4. Rounding out a hugely successful season for the women of the WRL championship, Round 3 Racing sealed two championships and four podiums over the COTA-double header. With everyone's eyes already set on 2023, we can expect more female drivers joining the ranks of the team, as Shift Up Now will continue its partnership with the outfit in order to provide more opportunities for female talents in endurance racing. Round 3 Racing's announcements are expected in the coming weeks.



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