Toyota Confirm Two-Year Deal for da Matta

Brazilian Cristiano da Matta has been confirmed as Toyota's second driver for the 2003 season.

Toyota Confirm Two-Year Deal for da Matta

Brazilian Cristiano da Matta has been confirmed as Toyota's second driver for the 2003 season.

The 29-year-old Brazilian, this year's CART champion, will partner Frenchman Olivier Panis in 2003 and 2004 after signing a two-year deal with the Toyota squad. The move, which had already been expected for some time, fills one of the few seats left for the upcoming season.

"I have accomplished one of my goals by winning the CART driver's championship title," said da Matta. "I am very thankful to Carl Haas, Paul Newman and all of Newman/Haas Racing for the support, hard work and accomplishments that we have achieved together. Now I am ready for the next challenge.

"It is great to be able to join Toyota and more importantly to further develop my already successful partnership with Toyota. To be able to combine this with driving in Formula One is very special to me and I look forward to the exciting and demanding challenges that lie ahead.

"Though I enjoyed driving the Toyota Formula One car in May this year, I cannot wait to test the more-evolved TF102B car as a Panasonic Toyota Racing F1 driver later this month!"

The Brazilian has been linked with Japanese car giants Toyota since he made his CART debut in 1999, and the new deal represents the firm's commitment to honour long service.

Chairman of Toyota Motorsport and Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation, Tsutomu Tomita said of the announcement: "I am very pleased that Cristiano is joining Panasonic Toyota Racing.

"His long-term partnership with Toyota and his natural driving talent will prove an essential asset to us as our Formula One programme enters an exciting new stage of development."

Da Matta is the son of an 11-time Brazilian touring car champion and began competing in karts at the age of 16 before winning the Brazilian Formula Ford championship in 1993. He moved to British Formula Three the following year and finished eighth with one win, then progressed into Formula 3000, where he finished eighth in a disappointing year.

He crossed the Atlantic in 1997 to enter the Indy Lights championship and won the Rookie of the Year title before winning the overall title the following year then moving up to Champ Cars. This year, he dominated the series and won the championship well before the end of the season.

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