Meet the Contenders: Neil Alberico
 September 7, 2015| 
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Six different drivers have stood on the top step of the podium to date in this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Four of those drivers – rookies Santiago “Santi” Urrutia of Uruguay, Frenchman Timothé Buret and Malaysian Weiron Tan, along with sophomore American Neil Alberico – have a chance to take the title this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. On the line is a Mazda Scholarship of $590,300 to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016.

PALMETTO, Fla. - Neil Alberico is the very picture of California cool. The affable 22-year-old Los Gatos native enjoys surfing, golfing and racing cars. But on the inside burns a competitive fire that belies the cool exterior, a fire that earned Alberico last year’s Pro Mazda Spirit Award, presented to the driver or team that embodies the heart of a champion as they strive to reach their goals.

Like so many drivers, Alberico came up through the karting ranks, earning three junior championships and two senior titles. He contested Formula Ford championships in England and Europe in 2011 and earned a Team USA Scholarship which saw him score several pole positions and heat race victories in Formula Ford events in England. Alberico then moved to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, where he finished a close second to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Scott Hargrove in 2013 despite six wins, eight podium finishes and 11 front-row starting positions. 

Heading up one more rung of the ladder last year with the Cape team, he finished third in Pro Mazda with four podiums and 11 top-six drives. 2014 also saw Alberico, Juncos Racing’s Spencer Pigot and IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden named as inaugural representatives for Rising Star Racing, a new organization designed to provide funding and support for select young drivers moving up the racing ladder.

Despite a late start that saw him miss the Cooper Tires Winterfest pre-season test sessions, Alberico came roaring out of the gate this year, sweeping two poles and two victories at the season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. After taking another victory at Barber Motorsports Park in April, Alberico endured mid-season misfortune, with mechanical issues and incidents costing him valuable points. Rebounding with a second-place finish and a victory at Mid-Ohio, Alberico knows that, once again, he goes into the season finale with a shot at the title – albeit from 29 points behind Urrutia.

“We are within striking distance of the championship, so we’ll go into the weekend with the plan of winning both races, and then whatever happens, happens. I can’t control what happens to anyone else, we just have to win some races and hope things work out for us. But I would love to get into an Indy Lights car next year. I think we’re ready to move on, regardless of what happens at the finale. The last two years, I’ve finished second or third. I’ve been really close and in the title fight coming to the last races. And it would mean so much to win this for the Cape guys. I’ve been so close with those guys the last several years. It would mean a lot to win the championship for them and for Rising Star, to take the financial burden off of them. It would be great to work with Mazda next year, to have the scholarship. It will be really exciting if we can pull it off.”

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story for Alberico. 

“Racing is so competitive, and there are a lot of aspects to it that are more difficult when seen from the inside rather than from the outside. But my favorite part is just traveling and meeting people. You meet so many cool people in this sport. I love the behind-the-wheel driving part, but it’s the friendships that really last.”
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