British ace shows consistent improvement on Pro Mazda Championship debut18-year-old tallies a brace of top ten finishes around Barber road courseLondon teenager excited for main campaign with World Speed Motorsports
Alessandro Latif declared himself delighted with his performance and progress over the course of the two-pronged Pro Mazda Championship Winterfest – as the rising young British star settled into his new open-wheel career in style.Having already established a formidable reputation as a supremely accomplished sportscar competitor – lifting the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series Pro-Am Championship laurels and twice triumphing in-class in the prestigious Gulf 12 Hours amongst other headline-grabbing achievements – Latif has steered his burgeoning career stateside in 2015 in signing up to contest the fiercely-disputed Pro Mazda Championship with World Speed Motorsports (WSM).As a warm-up to the main season, the 18-year-old Londoner entered the Winterfest curtain-raiser – comprising three races at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana followed by two more at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.With only limited prior running time in the car, Latif adopted a mature and strategic approach, building his pace up steadily throughout practice at NOLA and moving forward in every race to tally a trio of 11th-place finishes, taking the chequered flag less than a second shy of the top ten in the last of them. In the process, the Kensington teenager also narrowed his deficit to the fastest driver in the field from 2.4 seconds per lap to barely a second.With his erstwhile karting coach Jack Hawksworth – now a household name in the high-profile IndyCar Series – on-site to offer mentoring and support, Latif maintained that impressive upward momentum less than a week later at Barber. After cracking the top ten in race one, he saved his best ‘til last with eighth position in race two, despite having to contend with a damaged front wing that adversely affected the handling of his 260bhp single-seater.That final flourish secured the dual UK and Italian citizen tenth spot in the standings, and as he reflects on his Mazda Road to Indy debut and looks ahead to the main campaign, Latif acknowledges that there is plenty of cause for encouragement.“It's all a big learning curve right now, and we essentially treated the two Winterfest meetings as glorified test and practice sessions and an opportunity to gain experience and get some mileage under our belts,” explained the former Marlborough College student, who has a deferred place at Loughborough University to study Mechanical Engineering. “It was good to spend more time with the team, too, and get an initial feel for the competition.“The Pro Mazda is a very challenging car to drive but a lot of fun at the same time. Pretty much my whole car racing career up to this point has been sportscar-oriented, and single-seaters require a totally different mindset and approach. That has made for a sizeable transition and I’m effectively having to learn everything all over again.“We concentrated entirely on ourselves and the work we wanted to complete – our attention was never on the results at such an early stage – and it was great to have Jack there. He is an ideal benchmark after his awesome Pro Mazda season in 2012 when he won the title, and his knowledge and feedback enabled us to make some big steps forward over the two meetings.“I can’t wait for the start of the main season now. I’m aware I’ll be on the back foot to begin with given my lack of experience in single-seaters, but we’ve been studying as many on-board videos of the tracks as possible and we know what our internal goals are. We are simply taking everything step-by-step and focussing on our own objectives, and as long as we stick to that plan, hopefully we will make consistent progress up the grid.”The 16-round Pro Mazda Championship schedule takes in nine race weekends across a blend of street circuits, road courses and ovals, and will rev into life at St. Petersburg in Florida on 28/29 March.