Race Weekend Central

Steven Aghakhani Wins VP Racing Challenge Race No. 1 at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – MLT Motorsports’ Steven Aghakhani was able to take advantage of Performance Tech Motorsports’ Alex Kirby going wide in turn 2 with two laps to go to retake the lead Saturday afternoon (Jan. 20). Aghakhani was able to hold on from there to win the first IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge race of the year at Daytona International Speedway.

Aghakhani won by 1.238 seconds over Kirby. Rick Ware Racing’s Cody Ware, racing for the first time since he was suspended (and later reinstated) by NASCAR, finished third. FastMD Racing’s Marco Kacic was fourth, while US RaceTronics’ Brian Theines was fifth.

Aghakhani started from the pole in his Ligier JS P320-Nissan, but Alex Kirby was able to take away the advantage entering the Le Mans chicane on the first lap. Aghakhani posited after the race that Kirby had more temperatures in his rear tires prior to the start, a consequence of having never raced a prototype before.

Meanwhile, Cody Ware, making his return to racing after criminal charges were dismissed against him, had a tough start. He started fifth, but charged a little too hot into turn 1. As a result, Ware spun out his Ligier. He was able to continue, but lost track position.

The race’s sole full course caution came out with 17 minutes to go when Archangel Motorsports’ Robbie McWilliams spun in the Le Mans chicane and hit the tires. That brought everyone back together for a final sprint to the finish.

Kirby tried to open up a gap on Aghakhani, but could not do so. The first lap after the restart, Aghakhani attempted to sweep around Kirby in the tri-oval, but failed. A lap later, Aghakhani tried again and got further alongside Kirby.

The second attempt failed as well. However, Kirby had to defend more vigorously. That resulted in the slip as he went too hard into turn 2. That was all Aghakhani needed for the win.

For Aghakhani, this was his first race at all in over a year. In 2022, Aghakhani raced full-time in Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS for US RaceTronics alongside Loris Spinelli. That team moved to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship last year, but Aghakhani chose not to follow (that team is now known as Forte Racing).

In the GSX class, Baby Bull Racing’s Michael Cooper started on pole in his Porsche Cayman GT4 RS CS. However, that advantage did not last for long. In the first couple of corners, Marc Miller, driving the Thaze Competition Mercedes in place of Eddie Killeen, took the advantage away.

Prior to the race, Stephen Cameron Racing’s Greg Liefooghe told Frontstretch that drafting was going to be the key to victory in the GSX class. The early portions of the race echoed that.

Cooper was able to chase Miller back down with Liefooghe in tow. Both attempted to pass Miller three-wide in the tri-oval. Ultimately, Cooper was able to get the lead back while Liefooghe moved up to second.

The race was effectively a battle between the top-three drivers, plus Split Decision Motorsports’ Patrick Wilmot. Further back, KohR Motorsports’ Luca Mars was charging in his new Ford Mustang GT4 from the rear of the grid after failing a post-qualifying weight check.

Mars started 20th in class and managed to get himself up to sixth in just 18 minutes. While the leaders fought among themselves, Mars was able to run down the lead quartet, then dispatch of Wlmot for fourth.

Liefooghe was able to take the lead away from Cooper, then chose to run a contrarian high line on the banking in order to wind his BMW M4 GT4 up. The move also broke the draft.

On the restart, Miller was able to sweep around the outside of Liefooghe to take the class lead. However, the Mercedes is down a little on top speed. That allowed Liefooghe to retake the advantage.

On the final lap, Mars was able to run down Liefooghe exiting the Le Mans chicane and used the draft to run up on the BMW. Exiting turn 4 of the tri-oval, Mars swept to the inside of Liefooghe and used his power to drive past Liefooghe and just held on to take the first win for the S650 Ford Mustang GT4.

Mars’ margin of victory was .051 seconds over Liefooghe. Miller was third, followed by Cooper and Wilmot.

IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge: Daytona Race No. 1 Results

VP Racing SportsCar Challenge Race No. 2 is scheduled to go green at 12:20 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon. Coverage will stream live on Peacock at 12:15 p.m. ET.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via