Pace, progress and points for Latif on promising Oulton outing

Alessandro Latif offered a glimpse of his raw pace when the 2016 Porsche Carrera Cup GB (PCCGB) raced north to Cheshire last weekend, speeding to his finest finish to-date in the UK’s fastest one-make series as he lapped as quickly as the leaders at Oulton Park.

Latif has steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year, but his lack of prior knowledge of UK circuits meant he was discovering Oulton’s demanding and undulating layout for the first time. Gearbox failure further steepened that learning curve by ruling him out of Friday morning’s free practice session, with the rising young British star placing ninth amongst the 24 high-calibre protagonists in the afternoon.

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Having completed less than half the mileage of some of his rivals, Latif went into qualifying somewhat on the back foot, and a track limits infringement saw his best effort expunged from the classification. That relegated him from eighth on the starting grid to tenth for race one and 11th for race two, albeit still just two tenths-of-a-second shy of his title-challenging GT Marques team-mate Dino Zamparelli.

Behind the wheel of his striking Fauna and Flora International-liveried car, the 20-year-old London-born ace swiftly advanced to eighth in Saturday’s contest and thereafter displayed a consistently strong turn-of-speed – even posting a new fastest lap at one stage as he chased down the sixth-placed scrap.

He had reduced the deficit to under a second when the race was red-flagged early due to an accident lower down the order, but eighth position nonetheless represented Latif’s best finish thus far in the ITV4-televised, fiercely-disputed BTCC support series. Not only that, but the fourth-quickest lap time in the final reckoning – a scant 15 hundredths-of-a-second adrift of the outright benchmark up against drivers with considerably more experience – hinted at a great deal of untapped potential.

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The following day, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé and Marlborough College graduate held station at the start and was endeavoring to break into the top ten when he found himself tagged into a spin at Island Bend.

That damaged the splitter on Latif’s 460bhp Porsche 911 GT3, significantly affecting the car’s performance and dashing any hopes of a second consecutive points-scoring result – but it could not dim his optimism as the PCCGB travels next to Croft in Yorkshire in less than a fortnight’s time.

“Overall, it was a really promising weekend, with plenty of positives to take away and more valuable lessons learned,” reflected the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series Pro-Am Champion. “I loved the track; the layout is very technical with lots of bumps and elevation changes, which made establishing a solid set-up quite tricky while the high temperatures over the weekend also increased tyre degradation.

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“Despite missing FP1 with the gearbox issue, as soon as we got out in FP2, we were on-form but both myself and Dino struggled slightly in qualifying. I virtually matched his pace, which was encouraging, but then my fastest lap was taken away due to overstepping track limits. The irony was that I only strayed over them because the car was unstable through Turn One and I couldn’t prevent it from pitching me sideways, so I certainly didn’t gain anything!

“We consequently started further back in the pack than we should have done, which is a real penalty at Oulton as overtaking is just so difficult there. That was proven in both races, but the team gave me a great car and it was good to get some clear air in the first of them to demonstrate the kind of speed I was capable of.

“In Sunday’s race, I was pushing hard to try and move through the field again, but when I switched to the outside line heading into the hairpin, the driver ahead didn’t give me any room and squeezed me onto the grass, almost sending me into the wall. It was obviously a shame to end the weekend that way, but we unquestionably showed we have some strong cards to play in this championship and next time out at Croft, hopefully we can exploit that potential.”