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January 07, 2013 News
EKN.ca One-on-One: Italian F3 Championship's Nicholas Latifi
 

Canadian Nicholas Latifi made a successful transition from the karting ranks to the Italian Formula 3 Championship in 2012 (Photo: Latifi)
Canadian Nicholas Latifi made a successful transition from the karting ranks to the Italian Formula 3 Championship in 2012
(Photo: Latifi)

Ontario karter Nicholas Latifi decided to make the move to car competition in 2012, and promptly impressed. Making the jump directly to F3 via the Italian Formula 3 Championship, he showcased good speed and racecraft as a rookie. The eKartingNews.ca editorial staff recently had the chance to speak with Latifi about his time in the karting ranks, his new junior formula car experience, and the future.


EKARTINGNEWS.CA: Let's get the ball rolling by talking about your first involvement in motorsports via karting. What led you to first getting behind the wheel of a kart here in Canada?

NICHOLAS LATIFI: Itís kind of a long story, but it all began back in mid 2009. I had gone to a karting track in Terrebonne, Que. (that is no longer operational) with my uncles and cousins. They had owned a few CRGs and would go to the track every few weekends just for fun. I happened to be in Montreal one of the weekends they decided to go, so I tagged along with them. After watching them for a few laps I decided that I wanted to give it a try because it seemed like a lot of fun. Having no experience in driving karts, I wasnít allowed to drive theirs considering they were Rotax and KZ shifter karts, which at the time, I knew nothing about, but knowing what I know now, it was probably a good idea I didnít jump into one of those for my first time! I decided to go on the rental karts they had there, which obviously didnít look as exciting, but I still had a great time.

After that day I told my father that I wanted to find a place in Toronto to go karting just for fun every now and then because I enjoyed my experience back in Montreal. My father had known someone through some gentleman track days he had been doing with my uncles. This man was David Tennyson, who is my current driving coach. David has an indoor karting track in Brampton, called Formula Kartways, which I would go up to with my older brother and father every Saturday morning. I had no intention of eventually wanting to race karts, but just wanted to do it for fun. After the first few laps I did around the track, David, who had been a professional racecar driver for nine years, and had many years of experience coaching and developing other drivers, saw something in me that he hadnít seen in any other driver. He convinced my parents to make me try a real, competitive, karting race, and when I was asked to do so I said no! I still had no interest in wanting to race competitively. Every time I went back to the track, David constantly asked me if I had changed my mind, and my decision was still no. After about a month of going to this track, I finally agreed to give it a try, and from then on I was hooked!

EKN.CA: What your initial thoughts when you began racing? How long was it before you started thinking about potentially becoming a professional race car driver?

LATIFI: When I first began racing, it was a very tough for me to get acclimated to this new world I had entered into. I had done two races in the Honda Jr. 4 cycle category, one, which was an endurance charity race, and the one, which had gotten red-flagged a few laps into it. So basically I still hadnít, in my opinion, completed a ďrealĒ race. After that I immediately jumped in the Rotax Junior category. My first Rotax race was in early December of 2009, at the track in Homestead, Fla. After that I was pretty much thrown to the dogs, as my second race ever was the first round of the 2009 Florida Winter Tour. In my opinion, and Iím sure all of the other drivers would feel the same way; it was the most competitive generation of Rotax Jr. drivers ever in North America. At the time I had know clue who any of these drivers were, but they are all now some of the top drivers in continent. Given these circumstances, I obviously wasnít doing too well with regards to my results, but given my experience level compared to the guys I was racing against, I couldnít really have expected much more. That year I did a lot of racing just trying to gain more and more experience and just kept trying to learn something from every race, eventually, moving through the ranks.

It actually wasnít until around August of this year that I made the decision to want to become a professional racecar driver. I had enjoyed kart racing so much over the short period of time I have been doing it, which is only four years, and I wasnít sure whether or not I wanted to give that up and start racing cars. That is why ultimately my family and I, along with my coach David, decided that I should run in the Italian Formula 3 Championship, to see if I would enjoy racing cars, and want to pursue it further.

EKN.CA: After some success in the Rotax Junior ranks you made the move to the Rotax DD2 class. Was that a plan all along, as most racers make their way into Rotax Senior before tackling DD2 racing?

LATIFI: As I was approaching my last few races in the Rotax Jr. category, there was a big discussion/argument about which category I would move into after I was done with Rotax Jr. This ďargumentĒ involved me, my parents, David, my two mechanics, as well as my engine builder. Ultimately it was Davidís opinion that had the most influence on me and my parents to move into the DD2 category, because it was closer to what a racecar would feel like (which was the direction we were moving in), considering it has front brakes, as well as different gears. So after I finished my last race in Jr., which was the 2010 Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, where I finished 12th, we made the jump to DD2.

EKN.CA: Your transition to DD2 went very smoothly, becoming a front-runner in very little time. What was key to your success early on?

LATIFI: For me, my key to success was doing a lot of training before the racing season started. One of my biggest strengths while driving/racing a DD2 was braking, which Iím sure anyone who has watched me race, or raced with me would tell you. I am a very confident late-braker, which I feel is something you must be able to do, especially when you have front brakes. I developed this skill early on by dong a lot of braking drills, instead of just lapping around a track, which is what most people would do.

EKN.CA: You effectively ended your karting career with a series title, by winning the Florida Winter Tour Rotax DD2 title. How important was it to you to win a championship before making the transition to car racing?

LATIFI: For me, winning the Florida Winter Tour this past year was something very important to me, not because of winning the championship itself, but because it earned me another ticket to the Rotax Grand Finals for this year. In, 2011 I came so close to becoming to World Champion, as I was running in the top-three pack the whole race, but on the last lap I was bumped off the track which shattered my hopes. Earning the ticket to go back this year was all about redemption and hoping to go back and fight for the world championship title.

Unfortunately this year, once again, I was consistently in the top-five every session/race up until the Prefinal, where I had massive engine issues, which dropped me back to 15. Starting in the middle of the pack for the Final at the world championships didnít really do me any favors, as I dropped way back at the start and only managed to finish 13th.

Basically I wouldíve loved to have left the karting world and transitioned into cars as a World Champion, but unfortunately that didnít happen.
 

The highlight of Latifi's strong rookie run in F3 was a win at Vallelunga (Photo: Foto Speedy)
The highlight of Latifi's strong rookie run in F3 was a win at Vallelunga
(Photo: Foto Speedy)

EKN.C: This past year you began racing cars full-time. Unlike most karters who start in the lower levels of junior formula car action, you immediately jumped into a Formula 3 car. Why go that route, and how did this come about?

LATIFI: We decided to make the jump straight to Formula 3 based solely on what I had been able to do in karting in such a little amount of time. We figured that I managed to skip so many steps while lacking the experience almost every other driver had on me in karting, so why not do the same in cars? This meant that I would be racing against drivers in Europe who had at least two-four years of car racing experience, while it was only my first year, but if you think about it, I only started racing karts when I was 13, while the other drivers I was racing against wouldíve started around when they were six-eight years old.

Also the formula 3 series have very open testing rules. I could pretty much test whenever I wanted, which was something that was crucial for my development as a driver.

EKN.CA: Early on what skills from your karting days translated over to F3? Did your karting experiences help with the transition?

LATIFI: There are obviously many similarities between driving a kart and a car. The main things that any driver can take away from driving a kart and applying them to driving a car are the basic things like the driving line, as well as race craft (things you do while racing someone). However there were many things that made the transition a bit difficult. The biggest thing for me to acclimate to was ďracingĒ the car close to the other drivers. What I mean by this is in a Formula 3 car, they predominantly make their downforce with the use of the front and rear wings. They rely on clean and undisturbed air in front of the car to create this downforce. What this means that if you get close to another car, essentially in their draft, you do not have any clean air, which will result in a loss of downforce. This makes it very hard to run close to another car and pass, whereas in karting you are able to run bumper to bumper easily.

EKN.CA: Now you raced in the Italian F3 Championship this past year, which over the past few years has seen a few fellow North American graduates compete. Did you talk to any of them to get some feedback on the cars, teams, tracks?

LATIFI: Honestly we hadnít. Looking back on the season now, it could have maybe been beneficial, but we just went into the series open-minded. However we had talked to some drivers as well as some team owners during the season, and most of them agreed upon the fact that a Formula 3 car is probably the most difficult formula car to drive, and is great for a driver when they are going through the developmental stages of their career.

EKN.CA: With the season now complete, tell us your thoughts on the championship and your first season of full-time car racing. What did you learn that will help you as your career progresses?

LATIFI: Overall I would have to say Iím quite satisfied with the way my first season of racing cars went. I wouldíve obviously liked to do better, but considering that it was my first season in cars, and the fact that I did skip some steps, I think it went ok. I unfortunately went through many tough learning experiences that cost me a few trips to the podium, but again it was just my inexperience getting the best of me. I have taken many things away from these hard-learned lessons, and will definitely put them to use in the races to come.

Some of the things I learned, and are things that I am still working on, are how to debrief better with my car engineer to make sure the car is setup in the best possible way to suit my driving style. Another thing is knowing, and most importantly feeling, how close you can get to another car, and finding the right balance between getting too close and loosing a bit too much performance on the car, and getting a bit too far and loosing a bit too much space on the track.

EKN.CA: What was the highlight of your Italian F3 Championship season?

LATIFI: I would have to say the highlight of my season in Italian F3 would without a doubt be my win at Vallelunga. It was the third and final race of that weekend and it had honestly been quite a disastrous one up until that point. No won wouldíve really expected me to win, considering my lack of experience, so it just made it that much more amazing when I did. To make it even more challenging, I had the eventual series champion, Riccardo Agostini, on my bumper the whole race.

EKN.ca: Let's end things about talking about the future. Have you started making plans for the 2013 race season? Is the plan to stay in Europe, perhaps run more F3 in Italy or elsewhere? In addition, will you be getting back behind the wheel of a kart?

LATIFI: As for my plans for next season, there are still many things still yet to be confirmed. Currently I have signed with Giles Motorsport to take part in the 2013 Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand, this winter. After that I will most likely be competing in the Formula 3 Euro Series, but again, nothing is official.

As for karting, unfortunately I will not be taking part in any more races. The 2012 Rotax World Finals was essentially my last karting race. It is a shame that I ended on a bad note, but now I really have to focus on the task at hand, which is becoming as competitive as possible racing cars.

EKN.CA: Thanks for taking the time to speak to EKN.ca and its readers. We look forward to following your continued progress up the motorsports ladder.

LATIFI: Thank you very much!


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