Steven Aghakhani and Luca Mars duplicated their IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge wins from a day earlier on Sunday, staking early claims in their bids for 2024 class championships.
Aghakhani was the Race 2 overall winner and Le Mans Prototype 3 (P3) class victor in the No. 6 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P320. Aghakhani had a spirited battle throughout with Cody Ware (No. 51 Rick Ware Racing with Ave Motorsports Ligier), even though Ware was facing a 10-second postrace penalty for an incident with another prototype on the first lap of the 45-minute race.
Ware passed polesitter Aghakhani for the lead while the cars were working through lapped traffic with 26 minutes remaining, but Aghakhani returned the favor in the same area of the Daytona International Speedway road course’s infield section 16 minutes later.
A late full-course caution for a car stopped on track resulted in a one-lap restart dash to the checkered flag, with Aghakhani easily rebuffing Ware’s advances. With the Ware penalty assessed, Aghakhani won by 4.036s over Marco Kacic (No. 87 FastMD Racing with Remstar Duqueine D08) and Ware wound up in eighth place.
“Traffic management is something we’ve always had sitting in the back of our head just from my racing background,” said Aghakhani, who’s raced in several series before joining the VP Racing Challenge this year. “It was very good to pull out some of those good memories and open that filing cabinet.
“It really showed on that move (to retake the lead) going into Turn 4, the Kink. I’m seeing three cars, four cars down the lane. I see another GSX car down the road and think to myself already exiting (Turn) 3, ‘Hey, I can use this guy’ (as a pick to pass Ware). It worked out perfectly fine. It ended up going almost three wide into (Turn) 4 but ended up making it stick.”
Mars (pictured, top) faced a polar opposite race from his experience on Saturday when he charged from last on the grid to win the GSX class in the No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT3. He started from the class pole on Sunday and faced few threats, winning by 1.322s ahead of Michael Cooper in the No. 55 Baby Bull Racing Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport.
“I knew we had a fast car; I knew I was going to be the car to beat,” Mars said. “I lost a spot at the start due to some LMP3 traffic but was able to work around, get to the front and just kind of maintain that gap the whole race. The late caution came out and kind of brought everyone together for a one-lap shootout. I was able to just hold my ground and get the win today.”
The two wins builds momentum for Mars not only for the VP Racing Challenge season but for his IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge ride with KohR that begins with Friday’s BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona.
“Two firsts, it’s great for the (VP Racing Challenge) championship,” said Mars. “We’ve got a lot of confidence for the year now and a lot of confidence for next weekend, for the four-hour race.”
The next doubleheader round for the VP Racing Challenge takes place at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of the Florida city, March 8-10.