Alessandro Latif produced the finest performance of his rookie campaign in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB (PCCGB) at Brands Hatch last weekend, as the rising young British star signed off from 2016 in style and admitted that he has never enjoyed his racing as much as he is doing right now.
Arriving at Brands with some prior experience of the Kent circuit’s legendary ‘GP’ layout – albeit from three years ago – Latif worked his way methodically through a productive practice day behind the wheel of his 460bhp, GT Marques-run and Fauna and Flora International-liveried Porsche 911 GT3.
Qualifying took place on a damp and treacherous track surface, with intermittent rainfall and constantly changing grip levels. Underlining both his impressive progress over the second half of the season and deft touch in the wet, the 20-year-old London-born ace looked to be on-course to clinch his maiden pole position in the UK’s quickest one-make series before finding himself caught out by the conditions in the last sector of the lap.
That restricted Latif to a disappointed sixth on the grid amongst the 24 high-calibre protagonists for both PCCGB races on the ITV4-televised, Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) support bill. Undeterred, he nailed the rolling start in the first of them to immediately gain a spot to fifth, and despite nursing rear-end suspension damage caused by an over-enthusiastic rival, he swiftly settled into the leading pack.
Advancing to fourth when recently-crowned champion Dan Cammish spun on lap seven, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé clung on under increasing pressure from a gaggle of cars behind, conceding one position to a flying Tom Oliphant but thereafter artfully fending off his adversaries all the way to the chequered flag. He even closed back in on the podium battle in the latter stages of the race, winding up just over a second adrift and posting a better fastest lap time than the two drivers directly ahead en route to his third top six finish in four starts.
Latif was eyeing more of the same in the second contest, only for driveshaft failure on the grid to dash his hopes and scupper his chances of pinching ninth spot in the final standings. Nonetheless, the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series Pro-Am Champion’s one-lap speed on Saturday and eye-catching racecraft on Sunday underscored his burgeoning momentum in sportscars – giving him plenty of cause for optimism heading into the off-season.
“That was probably my strongest weekend yet in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, and it proves we are unlocking more and more potential all the time,” reflected Marlborough College graduate Latif, who is currently dovetailing his racing commitments with an Economics and Finance degree at Milan’s Università Bocconi. “Qualifying was a lot of fun; it was wet and slippery, and everybody was just trying to explore the grip levels. You only really get two laps on the tyres in those conditions, meaning you have to be ‘on it’ straight out-of-the-box and that’s a challenge I always enjoy.
“Brands’ GP layout is really old-school, with very little margin for error and if you get it wrong, it will bite – as I found out to my cost. On my best lap in qualifying, I was running just behind my team-mate on the track and was two tenths up on the time that ended up securing pole position, but because it was so greasy through the last corner, we both slid wide. That was massively frustrating, because it was the first occasion all season where I’ve really felt I could fight for the top spot – although the fact that we had the pace to do so was encouraging in itself.
“I got a good start in race one to move up to fifth, but unfortunately another driver made contact with me from behind which damaged my suspension. With the performance of my car compromised, I was constantly having to keep an eye in my mirrors and whilst I tried to hold Oliphant at bay, he was simply too quick. I gained a position when Cammish spun and was able to hold off the others to the end – although there was a huge amount of pressure at times.
“I was pleased with fifth as it matched my best result to-date, but also disappointed because without the damage, it was clear that the podium would have been well within reach – I always kept the drivers ahead in sight, and I was coming back at them again towards the end. Under normal circumstances, third place would definitely have been there for the taking.
“Then in race two, there was nothing I could do. The car pulled away fine on the green flag lap, but when the lights went out for real, I released the clutch and suddenly had no drive. That obviously wasn’t the way I had wanted to end the season, particularly after the promise we had shown earlier in the day but it was still a really positive weekend overall and proved that the ball that started rolling at Knockhill has been gathering speed ever since, which is tremendously exciting going into the winter months. Genuinely, I’ve never enjoyed my racing as much as I am doing right now.”