'Huge boost' for Latif after promising oval pace at Iowa
 July 22, 2015| 
  • Team News
  • British rookie takes ‘tremendous step forward’ at Mid-West oval
  • London-born teenager unleashes eye-catching pace in Iowa
  • ‘No pain, no gain’ as 19-year-old leaves with newfound confidence

Alessandro Latif demonstrated just what a quick learner he is with an impressive performance in the latest round of the 2015 Pro Mazda Championship Powered by Cooper Tires – unleashing front-running pace at Iowa Speedway until a minor misjudgment pitched him into the wall and cruelly curtailed his progress.
Having steered his burgeoning open-wheel career stateside in 2015, ovals are a new challenge for Latif and – as the rising young British star swiftly discovered – involve rather more than simply keeping your foot flat to the floor and constantly turning left.
Many of his rivals in the fiercely-disputed Mazda Road to Indy series also had significant prior experience of the 0.875-mile Mid-West oval, meaning rookie racer Latif and the World Speed Motorsports (WSM) outfit were up against it from the outset.
That said, following a tough baptism, the 19-year-old Londoner worked his way methodically through practice, narrowing his deficit to the outright benchmark from a second-and-a-half to barely six tenths and gaining plenty of invaluable track time in the process.
After qualifying 12th, Latif rapidly advanced into the top ten in the race, lapping competitively in the middle of the pack and notably holding at bay Garett Grist, who had claimed pole position only to be relegated to the rear of the grid due to a technical infringement. The Kensington teenager was even beginning to edge away when he caught a bump at Turn Two, causing the back end of his 260bhp single-seater to snap sideways and sending him hurtling into the wall at unabated speed.
Thankfully, Latif was able to climb out of the wreckage and walk away – albeit nursing a sore head and neck – with his lack of serious injury testament to the safety and resilience of the cars. Whilst undeniably a missed opportunity, the dual UK and Italian citizen nonetheless took a great many positives from a breakthrough weekend.
“It was obviously a frustrating way to end, but it was an amazing feeling to really have a car underneath me to fight with on an oval and to have the confidence that it would do exactly what I wanted it to,” asserted former Marlborough College student Latif, who has a deferred place at Loughborough University to study Mechanical Engineering. “That marked a tremendous step forward for us, and all the guys at WSM did a fantastic job bearing in-mind we’re just a single-car team and had never previously set eyes upon Iowa Speedway.
“The track is incredible – a really cool, flat-out short oval – although we didn’t get off to a great start in free practice. The set-up was a long way off where we needed it to be and the car felt so nervous it was actually scary to drive. The team worked extremely hard, though, and we made a lot of changes that completely transformed it for the second session – I was immediately much more comfortable.
“That trend continued in qualifying, and our starting position was more a reflection of the fact that we were still playing catch-up from FP1 rather than an accurate gauge of our true pace. We felt we could keep punching in competitive times throughout the race, and I took advantage of some early scraps around me to move up into the top ten.
“I was battling against Daniel Burkett, who went on to finish fourth – and in all honesty, we were faster than him. We were lapping at the same speed as the front-runners whilst remaining conservative on tyre management to begin with, because the plan was always that the race was going to come to us.
“Unfortunately, on lap 16, the back end stepped out on a big bump in Turn Two – it was the same place where Juan-Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato and Sébastien Bourdais lost it in IndyCar, so I suppose at least I was in pretty solid company! I had felt the car bottom out there the lap before, and with a heavy fuel load on-board, I probably pushed just a touch too hard – had I shown a little more patience, we would likely have been able to pick other drivers off one-by-one.
“The whole thing happened in a blur, and I was merely a passenger. You’re never going to have a small accident on an oval and it was certainly a sizeable impact at around 110mph, completely cracking the engine and gearbox. There’s always a fear of the unknown before your first big crash, but hitting the wall and walking away has got it out of my system a bit – so in some respects, I guess it wasn’t all bad! No pain, no gain and all that...
“In hindsight, it really could have been a mega result, but looking at the weekend overall, I learnt a lot and we proved we have the pace and potential to run inside the top five, which definitely exceeded our expectations and was a huge boost. Now we need to maintain this momentum next time out at Mid-Ohio.”

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