WRL: multiple female class victories for R3R and Shift Up Now athletes at Sebring
The first all-female team by Round 3 Racing made history in WRL by taking two class victories at their first attempt, as five Shift Up Now athletes claimed five wins and one podium. Loni Unser and Hannah Grisham secured Eastern Championship titles.
The final round of the World Racing League powered by Hagerty for the Eastern Championship last weekend at the iconic Sebring International Raceway was nothing short of impressive for the many women taking the start of the two 8-hour races. Round 3 Racing – one of the series' top teams, that has activated a partnership with Shift Up Now – announced its first ever all-female line up for the event, in a star studded crew that included GT3 racer Erin Vogel, former W Series driver Sabré Cook and WRL regular Loni Unser at the wheel of the #701 Cooper Tires Porsche Cayman in the GP1 class. In separate cars, more Shift Up Now athletes took the start at Sebring: in the R3R Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4, Sarah Montgomery entered the GT0 class, while Hannah Grisham was behind the wheel of the R3R Hagerty Drivers’ Club Boxster in the GP3 category. Three different line-ups, one common goal: winning their classes – as the #701 crew also aimed at something bigger, the WRL Eastern Championship title for Loni Unser. On Friday, Sabré Cook and Erin Vogel completed their first laps in the Porsche Cayman, with both making their debut in the series. For Cook, it was also her return to racing after a year-long recovery from an injury picked up in the 2021 W Series season that later required surgery. Alongside Unser, Cook and Vogel qualified third for Saturday's first 8 hour race. Hannah Grisham and her teammates were fourth fastest in the GP3 class – but fast race pace left the team confident for the enduro. In GT0, the Hagerty Motorsports BMW M4 GT4 of Sarah Montgomery was once again - for the sixth consecutive time - on pole position. On Saturday, everything worked out perfectly for the three teams, in a historic day for Shift Up Now. Sabré Cook took the start in the #701 Porsche, in a double stint that was not without troubles for a lengthy red flag and cautions that slowed down Sabré's recovery. Eventually, Cook was able to grab the lead in the GP1 class before handing over to Erin Vogel. Sarah Montgomery was also in the driving seat for the opening stint of the race in the GP0 class BMW M4 GT4, which settled in the top three after the red flag and Safety Car neutralizations interfered with strategy calls in the first part of the race. While the car dropped to fifth in the final two hours, a late safety car bunched up the field again and gave the opportunity to Montgomery's teammate Cole Loftsgard to complete a remarkable recovery at the restart. Vogel had a clean stint and held the class lead in GP1, before Loni Unser took over for the final stint. In an equally dominant run, the Hagerty Drivers’ Club Boxster of Hannah Grisham and teammates also had taken the lead early on, and all three teams crossed the finish line as winners in their respective classes.
Five female drivers were on top of the podium in the first 8-hour race – in a truly remarkable achievement for Round 3 Racing and Shift Up Now. At their first attempt, Cook-Vogel-Unser became the first all-female team to win in WRL's GP1 class. On Sunday, the second 8-hour competition presented different challenges – but with similar results. The starting grid was shaped by the fastest times from the previous day: Sarah Montgomery and her teammates would start from second place in GT0, Cook/Vogel/Unser from third in GP1 and Hannah Grisham from fourth in GP3. The driving shifts were reversed, as Loftsgard took the start in the BMW M4 GT4 and Vogel had the task to start in the #701 Team Cooper Tire Porsche Cayman. Loftsgard's great pace and tyre management was crucial in bringing the car in a good position for driver/owner Brad McCall, who handed over to Sarah Montgomery in the top three after the middle stint. Montgomery had a tough time in the car, as she had to endure a malfunctioning water bottle for a hot three-hour stint. She still managed to bring the car home in second place. The Hagerty Driver’s Club Boxster quickly moved into the lead in GP3 in the hands of Hannah Grisham after an opening double-stint. The team held the top spot in class throughout the 8 hours, sweeping the competition with a gap to the closest rival of several laps. The result handed Grisham and her teammates the class title in the Eastern Championship. “This weekend was surely one to remember for the entire team” – commented Grisham. “We had an amazing day Saturday ending on the top step of the podium." “Sunday was another great day. I started the race and our car was on rails. I drove from fourth to the lead, and put our competition almost a lap down" – she added. "My teammates also drove great stints and we had a dominating win, securing our Eastern National Championship." "I want to thank Shift Up Now, Hagerty Motorsports and the McCalls for all their support this year.” There was championship glory also for the Cooper Tire Porsche, as perfect teamwork sealed the deal for the #701 entry. Erin Vogel moved into second place during her opening stint and then handed over to Loni Unser at the two-hour mark. In a less caution-interrupted race compared to Saturday, Unser held second while navigating traffic in crucial stages of the race. In the final hour, Sabré Cook was able to claim the lead of the race in the GP1 class – and then held it until the chequered flag waved to signal the team's second win in as many days.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first weekend back in the driver’s seat thanks to Round 3 Racing” – said Cook. “The team environment is so wonderful to be a part of. Everyone is there to give their best, but also remembers the reason we all started racing: To enjoy it." “I was obviously nervous to see how my body would deal with the strain of racing again" – she added, having just raced on an extremely demanding and bumpy circuit like Sebring. "I was so excited and relieved to feel strong and pain-free in the car, thanks to OrthoIndy’s amazing surgeons and the healthcare professionals that helped me during my rehab." The double victory helped Loni Unser to the championship title in the #701 entry. "It feels awesome that we were able to get multiple wins this weekend," said Unser. "It really shows that an all-female team can dominate just as much as an all-male or co-ed team." "We really proved a point this weekend. It was also great to win the Eastern Championship for the No. 701 Porsche Cayman this weekend. I couldn't have been happier to be part of it with Round 3 Racing, Erin [Vogel], and Sabré [Cook]. Thank you to Shift Up Now for helping with this partnership." Loni Unser's title effort was also helped by two other extremely talented female racers: Shea Holbrook and Ayla Agren, who shared the wheel of the #701 Porsche Cayman with Unser respectively at Daytona International Speedway and at VIRginia International Raceway. The resounding success in the WRL Eastern season highlights once again how talented women, when provided with competitive equipment and with support from competent people, will deliver. All across the globe, the 2022 season has unequivocally proven this point, in the most competitive sports car championship in the world. Pippa Mann's vision for the Shift Up Now collective, as well as the partnership with Round 3 Racing, are one more proof of concept. "Our three-year partnership with Shift Up Now is very important to me" – said Brad McCall, owner of Round 3 Racing. "I'm passionate about promoting the involvement of women in motorsports. I dreamt of the scene of an all-female team hoisting the trophy on the top step of the podium", he continued. "It was a big goal for Round 3 Racing and a huge step for women in this sport." Another well known name in international motorsport was also racing at Sebring last weekend: in the #770 TLM/Monoflo Porsche GT4 Cayman Clubsport, up-and-coming single-seater racer Chloe Chambers – the only American on the 2022 W Series grid – returned in the racing seat after the all-female championship concluded its season with three races to go.
Chambers was no stranger to the World Racing League championship, as she had made her debut in GT racing last year, teaming up with Shift Up Now leading figure Pippa Mann. At her return behind the wheel of the Monoflo Porsche, Chambers also had a positive weekend, finishing P11 on Saturday in the GT0 category. Sunday's 8 hour race saw Chambers and her teammates climbing up to sixth – but unfortunately a transponder issue resulted in 8 laps not being recorded – and therefore the #770 entry was demoted to P13 in class - in what was nevertheless a strong finish for the team. Chambers – who also got to help with strategy calls – will return with the team for the final race of the year at Circuit of the Americas, Austin, on December 2-4. Round 3 Racing's drivers Montgomery, Unser, Cook and Grisham will also be back for the COTA two 8-hour races that will round out their highly successful campaigns.