By Mark Robinson
IMSA Wire Service
The VP Racing SportsCar Challenge launched last year with the primary intent to develop talent that can move up the chain of IMSA-sanctioned race series. That objective is already being met.
As the VP Racing Challenge ushers in its second season later this week at Daytona International Speedway as part of the Roar Before the Rolex 24, officials of the sprint series can point with pride at several 2023 drivers climbing the IMSA ladder this year. Bijoy Garg and Daniel Goldburg, who battled throughout last season in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (P3) class championship that came down to the last of the six doubleheader rounds, will be teammates this year in a United Autosports Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Meanwhile, after capturing the VP Racing Challenge GSX class title for GT4-spec cars in ’23, Francis Selldorff is staying with the same Turner Motorsport team but moving up to the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge this year.
With the top finishers driving elsewhere now, it leaves both classes wide open heading into this season. There are some familiar names to IMSA fans competing this week, however.
Brian Thienes, who finished third last year in LMP3 behind Garg and Goldburg, returns in the No. 77 Forte Racing Ligier JS P320. Lance Willsey raced the first half of last season for Sean Creech Motorsport and is back in the No. 33 Ligier as he pairs his VP Racing Challenge schedule with a full-season LMP2 run with Sean Creech in the WeatherTech Championship.
George Staikos, who raced most recently in 2022 in the IMSA Prototype Challenge series for LMP3s that preceded the VP Racing Challenge, is back in the No. 61 Ave Motorsports Ligier. Steven Aghakhani, a former Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America driver, is also returning following a year hiatus and will make his prototype racing debut in the No. 6 MLT Motorsports Ligier.
The GSX class entry list is headed by Gregory Liefooghe, who drove in just seven races last year in the No. 43 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4 GT4 but finished on the podium every time, including three wins. Patrick Wilmot, who finished fourth in last year’s GSX standings, is back in the No. 88 Split Decision Motorsports BMW, as is Angus Rogers, who was fifth in points in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport.
A couple others to watch in GSX who are also again running full slates in the Michelin Pilot Challenge: Luca Mars (No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4) and Frank DePew (No. 72 Rebel Rock Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 Evo).
A potential record 33 cars are on the pre-event entry list. Eleven are in LMP3, which would tie for the most set last year at Sebring International Raceway. Twenty-two are in GSX, with the previous best for that class of 19 also at Sebring.
The VP Racing schedule calls for a pair of 30-minute practices on Friday, with qualifying at 8:40 a.m. ET Saturday. The first 45-minute race starts at 2:05 p.m. Saturday, with the second at 12:20 p.m. Sunday. Both races stream live on Peacock.
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