Fast Learner, Aghakhani Leads P3 Class Heading to CTMP

By Mark Robinson

IMSA Wire Service

Considering he’d never stepped into a prototype race car before this year and was completely out of the sport for all of 2023, Steven Aghakhani has acquitted himself exceptionally well this season in the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge.

The 21-year-old Californian heads into the second half of the season with two wins and a comfortable lead in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (P3) class. The VP Racing Challenge heads this week to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for a pair of 45-minute sprint races.

Aghakhani began racing GT cars at age 16 in 2019. That year, he finished second in the Am class of the IMSA-sanctioned Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series, missing out on the title by a single point. He graduated to the Pro class the following two years, where he and Jacob Eidson finished second in 2020 and third in 2021. Aghakhani notched 10 total wins in the series and made his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in late 2021.

After taking the 2023 season off from racing, Aghakhani landed the opportunity this year to join MLT Motorsports to drive the No. 6 Ligier JS P320 in the VP Racing Challenge that features P3 and GT4 cars. Despite no prior prototype experience, Aghakhani swept the season-opening round at Daytona International Speedway. He’s followed that with a trio of second-place finishes in the next four races to build a 280-point lead in the P3 standings.

“So far, it’s been a fairly good season,” Aghakhani said. “Obviously, having I think a combined drive time of all the practice and races of about maybe 15-20 hours in the car, we have a little catching up to do in terms of driving the car more and getting the overall feeling. But as of right now, seems like it’s going pretty well.”

Aghakhani’s prime competition in P3 has come from Jagger Jones, driver of the No. 87 FastMD Racing with Remstar Duqueine D08 who’s won the last four races. But since Jones missed the Daytona round, he sits a distant fourth in points.

While he’s enjoyed his battles at the front with Jones, Aghakhani admits he and the MLT team are keeping the end goal in sight, which has tempered his aggressiveness.

“We have the championship in mind and that’s what’s important,” he said. “As a competitive driver it’s not what you want, but also in the end – in the long run – winning the war is more important than the battle. Taking home the championship at the end of the season is way more important than sacrificing everything for one race, and that’s what we keep in mind.”

Like many in this weekend’s 20-car field (eight in P3, 12 in GSX), Aghakhani has never raced at CTMP. He’s well aware of the track’s high-speed nature, which once again gets his competitive juices flowing.

“I’m looking very forward to this weekend because high-speed tracks I prefer actually over a lot of low-speed courses,” Aghakhani explained, “just because it’s almost like a fun factor of just kind of throwing the car in the corner and kind of scaring yourself. You’re like, ‘I hope this holds!’ I think we’re going to do great there. It’s a blessed opportunity to come out and do some racing at some legendary tracks like this.”

The GSX championship battle is much closer, with Luca Mars (No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4) and Jesse Lazare (No. 21 Motorsports In Action McLaren Artura GT4) separated by 120 points. Each of those drivers has won three times this season.

The VP Racing Challenge races are set for 8:50 a.m. ET Saturday and 3:55 p.m. Sunday. Both will stream live on Peacock in the U.S. and IMSA.tv elsewhere.