It may have looked easy from the outside, but Bijoy Garg suggests his flag-to-flag victory in Sunday morning’s 45-minute IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway was anything but.
“It wasn’t easy, definitely,” said the driver of the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P320. I feel like we had pace on all the other guys. They just got through traffic a bit better, but overall, I’m super happy with the win. Our car felt great all race.”
It looked great all race also. After starting the race from the pole position, it didn’t take long for Garg to pull away from rest of the field.
By the end of the second lap, he already held a 3.7-second lead over Dan Goldburg in the No. 73 JDC MotorSports Duqueine D08. Garg eventually built an advantage of more than five seconds before the field caught up slightly once the leader encountered traffic.
Garg appeared to be cruising to victory until a full-course caution came out for debris from Tim Probert’s No. 65 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 with just under 14 minutes remaining in the race. The green flag flew once again with four and a half minutes left on the clock and Garg once again showed Goldburg and the rest of the field a clean pair of heels.
“I knew once I got a gap, I could hold it,” Garg said. “So, all I needed to do was get a good restart and I did that. Once I had the gap into (Turn) 1, I was like, ‘OK, time to go.’”
The victory was Garg’s first in the series. He crossed the stripe 3.479s ahead of Goldburg, who saw his two-race series win streak snapped but he continues to lead the VP Racing Challenge LMP3 class points leader. Goldburg was also the highest-finishing Bronze-rated driver, enabling him to continue leading the Bronze driver point standings as well.
Antonio Serravalle rounded out the top three in the No. 18 Muehlner Motorsports America Duqueine. Lance Willsey — a 2022 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winner in the LMP3 class — finished fourth on Sunday morning in the No. 30 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier ahead of Brian Thienes in the No. 77 Forte Racing Powered by USRT Ligier. Thienes had worked his way up from fifth on the starting grid to third on the opening lap, but an off-course excursion later in the race moved him back down the order.
Mars takes GSX win in last-lap thriller
While the LMP3 class polesitter managed to go flag-to-flag en route to the victory, Gregory Liefooghe’s efforts to do the same in the GSX class came up one lap short.
Buoyed in part by the late-race full-course caution, 17-year-old Luca Mars managed to reel in Liefooghe’s No. 43 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4 GT4 over the closing laps. And just after taking the white flag, Mars knew it was time to make his move in his No. 59 KOHR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.
“It was a long race there,” Mars explained. “Lapped traffic kind of separated me and Greg a little bit, but I had him coming into (Turn) 1. I had a run, so I set up and got a little over-under. I was able to stick my nose in so he couldn’t fully block. I just kind of put my car in there where he couldn’t get down and squeeze me. I just got around the corner, he went a little wide, and that was it.
“I still needed to defend him a little bit, but I came through Tower Corner, Turn 13, and I saw I had a gap, and I knew I was really good through the 14-15-16 complex, so I went through there, put my head down and knew I had a big gap coming down into 17, so I was pretty confident in the win coming down there.”
Mars’ margin of victory was a scant 0.292 seconds over Liefooghe. It was his first win, coming in his first VP Racing Challenge start ahead of this afternoon’s second race of the Sunday doubleheader.
“It’s a new series,” said Mars, who was one of many additions to a field that swelled to from 24 cars at Daytona to 30 this weekend. “It’s an awesome series. I’m super glad to be here this weekend. I had a great time out there. It was a long race, and I’m super looking forward to racing later today.”
After leading both practice sessions, taking the pole position, and leading all but the final lap, Liefooghe took second in his series debut. Sebastian Carazo claimed the final spot on the podium with a third-place run aboard the No. 27 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 718 GT4 RS CS.
Moisey Uretsky made it four different manufacturers in the top-four GSX positions, coming home fourth in the No. 44 Accelerating Performance Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Francis Selldorff filled out the top five in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4.
The second and final 45-minute race of the day for the VP Racing Challenge takes the green flag at 1:30pm ET. Live Timing & Scoring is available on IMSA.com.