Jones and Lazare Stand atop Podium in VP Racing Challenge’s First Street Course Race

Staff Report

IMSA Wire Service

As it begins, so it ends as polesitters Jagger Jones and Jesse Lazare led every lap in their respective classes in Race 1 of Saturday’s IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge doubleheader at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Jones took the Le Mans Prototype 3 (P3) win by 4.637 seconds over Steven Aghakhani, who ran a strong and consistent race in the No. 6 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P320 following his victory sweep of Rounds 1 and 2 at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“My first race this year in the car and to come out with a win was awesome,” said Jones. “I was able to get a lead at the beginning and just managed that gap.

“We have one more race to go so in about two minutes. This is all going to fade out and we’re going to be focused on the next race.”

The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier wheeled by second-place starter Jonathan Woolridge fell back to sixth at the start of race and waged a battle with Brian Thienes in the No. 77 Forte Racing Ligier. Less than nine minutes into the race, Woolridge moved to the inside of Thienes as they entered Turn 13 and the two cars made contact, with Thienes limping away with a flat right-rear tire.

After starting fifth, Alex Kirby maneuvered the No. 7 Performance Tech Ligier into third but struggled getting through Grand Sport X (GSX) traffic as Jones and Aghakhani pulled away. On lap 20 of the 31-lap race, Kirby banged wheels with Cody Ware in the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing with Ave Motorsports Ligier as they exited Turn 1, resulting in a spin for Ware. Kirby continued but damage to the Ligier was apparent as he rode the outside wall between Turns 3 and 4. Ware temporarily resumed before he found himself unable to turn the wheel and crashed into the Turn 4 tire barrier. With both cars unable to continue, the first and only full-course caution of the race packed the field back up.

Wooldridge, who had fallen back as far as eighth following the contact with Thienes, sat in fifth at the restart with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining. As the final laps played out, Wooldridge moved up and found his way to the podium with a third-place finish behind Jones and Aghakhani. Mirco Schultis in the No. 70 MISHUMOTORS Ligier was the P3 Bronze Cup winner, finishing fifth overall.

The restart on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course erased the lead Lazare had built on Jackson Lee in the No. 82 van der Steur Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4 Evo. Lee pulled alongside Lazare, racing side-by-side into Turn 4. Lazare had the preferred line and was able to pull ahead, holding on to take his first win in the VP Racing Challenge.

“That yellow was kind of scary at the end because anything can happen when there’s two or three laps to go,” Lazare said. “Lee made a nice attempt on the outside and I just, just held him. I’m sure it’s going to be a good battle going into the next (race) because that was a bit of foreshadowing of what could happen.”

Lazare finished 0.735 seconds ahead of Lee with Luca Mars and the No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 finishing third. Micheal Dayton was the GSX Bronze Cup winner and fourth-place class finisher in the No. 12 Swish Motorsports BMW M4 GT4 (G82).

The second 45-minute race of the day for the VP Racing Challenge starts at 3:45 p.m. ET and will stream live on Peacock.