Latif Hails 'Tremendous Progress' Wrapping Up Rookie Pro Mazda Campaign
 September 14, 2015| 
  • Team News
  • Rising young British star looks back over season with satisfaction 
  • Frustrating finish doesn’t take shine off impressive rookie year 
  • 19-year-old Londoner says he has come out of campaign stronger 

Alessandro Latif might not have concluded his rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in the manner he had been hoping, but the rising young British star nonetheless left Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with plenty of cause for encouragement.
Latif has steered his burgeoning career stateside in 2015 off the back of a successful spell in sportscars. Competing for World Speed Motorsports (WSM) on the second rung of the proven Mazda Road to Indy ladder, the 19-year-old Londoner travelled to Mazda Raceway – a demanding 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course in scenic Monterey, California – aiming to sign off the season in style.
Unfortunately, gearbox gremlins from the outset hampered his preparations during testing and free practice – although they did not prevent Latif from underlining his potential as he lapped an excellent eighth-fastest amongst the 19 contenders.
A change in track conditions before qualifying saw the Kensington teenager slip down the order and he was disappointed to line up a lowly 16th on the grid for race one, but he artfully took advantage of an incident-strewn opening lap to avoid the melee ahead and carefully thread his way into 11th position. Following a prolonged full-course caution, he settled into a midfield scrap and wound up 12th when the chequered flag fell.
Latif began the second contest the next day from 17th, and courtesy of another bright start, he had manoeuvred his way up to 11th when the safety car re-appeared. That was when his race sadly unravelled, as an errant adversary made contact with the rear of the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé’s 260bhp single-seater and triggered what would transpire to be terminal damage.
The extent of that became clear with four laps left to run, when Latif found himself pitched off the road and into the tyre barriers as his suspension gave way, leaving the dual UK and Italian citizen 13th out of 24 in the final standings. As he looks back over his Californian weekend and his maiden campaign of US competition as a whole, he does so with mixed feelings but a justifiable sense of pride.
“After the street circuits – which I absolutely love – I’d say Mazda Raceway ranks as my favourite track of the year,” mused the former Marlborough College student, who has a deferred place at Loughborough University to study Mechanical Engineering. “It’s simply awesome – a lot of fun to drive – with some very cool corners like the legendary ‘Corkscrew’. You have to properly hustle the car around the lap if you want to get a good time out of it, and when we were in the window and truly dialled-in, I was able to really enjoy it.
“We encountered some gearbox issues in testing and practice, to the point where the last session was the first opportunity we had to try to set a decent time – but it was probably the most competitive we’ve been all season. Even better, we knew there was a lot more to come – the car felt great, and we were only scratching the surface of what was possible. That marked a real step forward.
“After that, I felt confident going into qualifying, but the track temperature dropped significantly and we didn’t adapt the car sufficiently to account for that. Suddenly, we had very little grip and it was extremely difficult to drive, meaning we went backwards.
“It was a similar story in race one, so we completely changed the set-up overnight and stiffened the chassis and I got a great start in race two to gain a lot of early ground. I had a good car underneath me, everything was beginning to click and I felt really excited about going on the attack – and then we had the caution period.
“Whilst we were circulating under the safety car, the driver behind ran into the back of me, which bent my exhaust, destroyed the diffuser and burnt the rear wing. The upshot was that I had practically no power at the re-start and when I went into Turn Six, I quickly discovered I had no downforce either! I lost the rear of the car, which sent me spinning into the wall.
“Everybody at WSM had done a fantastic job and we looked set to finish the season on a high, so it was immensely frustrating for all that hard work to be undone by somebody else’s error that was entirely out of our control. That’s racing, though, and I guess pretty symptomatic of what has been a tough and character-building year.
“It’s been a massive learning curve throughout in every respect, having to get to grips with the Pro Mazda car, open-wheel racing and a whole new bunch of circuits one step at a time. The ovals in particular were a totally different ballgame – and just for an extra challenge, I was effectively leading the team on the driving front as a rookie!
“There were inevitably disappointments, but we also showed some genuine promise – especially at Toronto, Iowa and Mazda Raceway. It was a shame not to come away with the results we wanted and deserved towards the end of the season – the final scoresheet didn’t remotely reflect our rate of improvement – but we made tremendous progress and everything I have learned I can take forward with me into the rest of my career, which will ultimately only make me stronger.”

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