Latif 'ticks all the boxes' on successful Indianapolis debut

  • Further progress for promising British teenager at home of American motorsport
  • 19-year-old laps up ‘electrifying’ atmosphere at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Pro Mazda Championship rookie ‘super excited’ ahead of oval racing debut 

Rising young British star Alessandro Latif claimed a clutch of consistent points-scoring finishes as the fiercely-disputed Pro Mazda Championship roared into the home of American motorsport last weekend – the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As he continues his open-wheel apprenticeship in 2015 – having switched disciplines and steered his burgeoning career stateside off the back of an extremely successful stint in sportscar circles – Latif headed to Indiana for three flat-out races around the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, a 14-turn road course that hosted Formula 1’s US Grand Prix between 2000 and 2007.
The prestige of the event attracted a larger field than usual – with the grid size swelling to more than 20 competitors for the first time this year – and the 19-year-old Londoner worked his way maturely and methodically through testing and practice behind the wheel of his 260bhp World Speed Motorsports-run single-seater.
Latif progressively reduced his deficit to the top of the timesheets, and benefitted along the way from some mentoring and advice from his erstwhile karting coach Jack Hawksworth – now a high-profile protagonist at the pinnacle of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder in the IndyCar Series, and a star performer in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis last year, qualifying on the front row and leading more laps than anybody else.
From 12th on the starting grid, Kensington teenager Latif vaulted immediately up to seventh in the opening encounter, but with a less-than-perfect set-up, he found himself thereafter very much on the defensive, and notwithstanding a gritty effort was powerless to prevent his rivals from demoting him to 13th at the chequered flag.
He added to that by advancing from 17th to 14th in each of the weekend’s remaining two outings to consolidate the same position in the championship standings, but already his sights are set on the second leg of Pro Mazda’s celebrated ‘Month of May’ – his oval racing debut at Lucas Oil Raceway, one of the key precursors to the 99th running of the iconic Indy 500.
“Indianapolis is just incredible!” enthused the former Marlborough College student, who holds dual UK and Italian citizenship and has a deferred place at Loughborough University to study Mechanical Engineering. “The atmosphere is electrifying, and when we walked round the track, what really took my breath away was looking down the start-finish straight to Turn One of the oval and the famous white concrete walls and thinking, ‘no way are these guys keeping it flat through there at 240mph!’ That really was pretty mind-blowing.
“The road course is also amazing, and a lot of fun to drive. It has a great blend of high-speed stretches and more technical sections and it’s probably the smoothest track in America, which means you can really run the cars low and with harder suspension to maximise their ground effect. That makes it as much a challenge for the engineers as for the drivers, and generates some fantastic racing.
“Jack was kind enough to spend the open test day with me, talking through the lap and offering me some tips, which gave me an early boost. It didn’t take that long to get to grips with the layout during testing and practice, and I just focussed on maintaining my progression and continuing to apply my newfound single-seater techniques.
“It was nice to have a bigger grid. As far as I’m concerned, the more drivers I can race during my learning year, the better. It’s always good to have more competition and more yardsticks to measure myself against, and I had some enjoyable battles at Indianapolis with Scott Hargrove, who finished second in the championship last year.
“I got a great start in race one to leap up to seventh, but it soon transpired that we’d set the car up with too much downforce, which meant I was a sitting duck down the straights and having to defend for my life. People were driving all the way around the outside of me in the end, and I was pleased to hang on to finish where we did!
“Whilst results are not the outright target this season, we did come away with three very solid finishes and having ticked every box and achieved all the internal goals we had set for the weekend. We got closer to the pace each time we went out, and as has been the case elsewhere, we were at our strongest in the final race – which proves we’re moving in the right direction.
“We left Indianapolis in very positive spirits, and I’m already looking forward to returning next week. I participated in an oval test a few months ago, and it really does demand a completely different mindset and skillset to anything I’ve done before – you need to slowly work up towards the limits, because if you push too hard, too soon and go over them, the circuit will bite. That makes ovals a stern challenge for even the most experienced of drivers, and I’m super excited to go racing at Lucas Oil Raceway – it’s going to be mega!”


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