Da Matta confirmed at PKV

PKV Racing confirmed yesterday that it has signed Cristiano da Matta to partner Jimmy Vasser for the 2005 Champ Car season. The announcement gives the third-year outfit one of the strongest driver line-ups in the series, with both da Matta and Vasser being former champions (in 2002 and 1996 respectively)

Da Matta confirmed at PKV

The Brazilian has been seeking a return to his old stamping ground since parting company with the Toyota Formula 1 team last summer. He held talks with three teams including Newman/Haas Racing, with whom he scored 10 of his 11 career victories. Once it became clear that the Illinois-based outfit was not in a position to field a three-car effort, he moved quickly to sign for PKV, which had already been strengthened by the arrival of the highly esteemed Jim McGee as team manager.

"The decision to join PKV Racing was not a difficult one - in the end it was the best opportunity for me," said da Matta. "The Newman/Haas deal always depended on finding sponsorship for a third car. I felt it was starting to get later and later to put it together, and with PKV adding Jim McGee and already needing someone to team up with Jimmy Vasser, I made my decision."

The combined talents of da Matta and McGee are bound to galvanise a major upturn in performance from a team which has hitherto languished in the midfield. Da Matta conceded that PKV may not be able to usurp the likes of Newman/Haas overnight, but believes there is plenty of potential waiting to be tapped into.

"I watched how PKV progressed last year, and the team definitely made improvement from the first half of the season to the second half," he noted. "Talking to Jim about our development programmes, I can say that maybe we won't start the season quite at Newman/Haas level, but we have a lot of potential to challenge sooner than most people expect."

Team co-owner Dan Pettit said that the signing of da Matta testified to the team's growing stature: "Adding Cristiano's experience and expertise to that of Jimmy Vasser and Jim McGee gives us formidable leadership on the track, in the pits and in the garage."

Owner/driver Vasser echoed Pettit's comments: "I can say from past experience that the formula for a championship team always includes two team-mates that are competitive - but more importantly can work together.

"I have known Cristiano for several years and respect him as a driver and a person. I am confident we will be able to work together to get the most out of our cars each race weekend. I can also tell you that once the green flag drops there will be no team orders - we will both race to win.

"The face of this team has completely changed and I think we're [now] one of the teams in the forefront of Champ Car racing. We've done a lot of hard work the last few months to get to this point."

The sponsorship package for da Matta's car has not been finalised, but Pettit said, "We're working very hard at it. We have a list of possibilities lined up, and we hope to announce before the start of the season."

The team contemplated fielding a third car for either Toyota Atlantic ace Ryan Dalziel or former Jaguar F1 test driver Bjorn Wirdheim, both of whom impressed in an evaluation test before Christmas. That option was ruled out on financial grounds, however.

"We looked at them very hard, and maybe in the future they could have a role with the team," said Pettit. "But for this season we are focused on a two-car effort."

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