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Jones, Lazare grab poles for IMSA VP Challenge at St. Pete

If Friday’s qualifying session for the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge is any indication, Saturday’s doubleheader at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the first street course race for the series that’s entering its sophomore season – is going to be competitive.

While a rotation of drivers spent time atop the speed charts in both classes, Jagger Jones in the No. 87 FastMD Racing with Remstar Duqueine D08 will lead the field to the green flag after posting the fastest overall qualifying lap in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (P3) class as he took the checkered flag with a time of 1m9.917s (92.681mph). Fast qualifier for the Grand Sport X (GSX) class was Jesse Lazare in the No. 21 Motorsports In Action McLaren Artura GT4 (1m17.051s, 84.100mph).

You would never guess that Jones has only two prototype race starts on his resume – those coming in the VP Racing Challenge last October at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta where he had a very strong debut – because the 21-year-old grandson of racing legend Parnelli Jones and son of five-time IMSA race winner PJ Jones races like a veteran.

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“It’s been a great day for us, swept the day, but what matters is tomorrow,” said Jones who also posted the fastest laps in each of the two practice sessions on Friday. “I’m lucky to have a good amount of street course experience the last two years – also ran here the last two years (in the Indy NXT and USF2000 Championship series) – so it feels like home again, I guess.

“This track is awesome, this car is awesome; combine the two, it’s been really fun. Everyone in the series has kept me honest today and made sure I was on my toes. I think I didn’t get the pole until the last lap there; maximum push. I gave it everything I had. It’s been really fun but the main goal and focus is on tomorrow.”

The driver who had the pole prior to the final lap of the session was Steven Aghakhani who swept both races at the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 6 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P320. Aghakhani’s lap of 1m10.499s (91.916mph) looked like it would be enough to start from the pole until he was relegated to third on the final lap, bested also by Jonathan Woolridge in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier (1m10.389s, 92.059mph).