Jones, Lazare convert VP Challenge poles to wins in St. Pete

As it begins, so it ends as polesitters Jagger Jones and Jesse Lazare led every lap in their respective classes in race one 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 4.637s 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 one and two 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.