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  Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Castroneves impresses in F1 test
Helio Castroneves
Castroneves refused to rule out an F1 move
Indycar driver Helio Castroneves could be on the verge of switching to Formula One, after impressing in his first test drive for Toyota.

The Brazilian, who finished second in this year's Indy Racing League, completed 75 laps for the Japanese manufacturer at the Paul Ricard testing circuit in the south of France on Friday.

And he revealed he was surprised by the similarity to oval racing.

He said: "This was my first time in a Formula One car and I was impressed by how easy it was to drive.

"I loved every single second of today's session and I did quite a few laps.

Antonio Pizzonia
Pizzonia was quicker than Irvine

"The team were great and worked professionally and I am very happy with the overall organisation of the day."

Toyota still have a vacant seat for next season, alongside BAR driver Olivier Panis, after current drivers Allan McNish and Mika Salo were released by the team.

Castroneves, though, is under contract to his Penske team but team boss Roger Penske has said he would release Castroneves if he was made an F1 offer.

"It's an opportunity. I have always had a wish to try an F1 car," said Castroneves. "I guess the opportunity has shown up, so I'm very happy to go and try.

"As far as next year, so far I'm set with Roger. I guess I'm very happy about the team. I believe they're happy, as well. When you have a good combination, it's difficult to break.

"Everything is going to depend. As far as I'm concerned, I'm here [in IRL] next year."

Cristiano da Matta - leader of the US-based Champ Car series, the IRL's rival - remains the hot favourite for the second seat at Toyota.

Toyota's F1 rivals Jaguar, meanwhile, have yet to announce whether Briton Eddie Irvine will be renewing his contract when it expires at the end of the season.


It was a good day and I am very pleased considering how little time I've had
Antonio Pizzonia

His place could now be taken by Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, who tested for the Milton Keynes-based team in France on Friday.

Pizzonia, a Formula 3000 racer and the Williams F1 test driver, set the third fastest time in a full session at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, behind Panis and McLaren driver David Coulthard.

His lap times were faster than both Irvine and fellow Jaguar driver Pedro de la Rosa.

Afterwards Pizzonia said: "I only managed half a day due to a problem with the car but it was a good day and I am very pleased considering how little time I've had."

Minardi's Australian Mark Webber is seen as a front-runner should Irvine leave but Pizzonia could yet force his way in.

"His experience and his familiarity with a Formula One car is quite evident," said a Jaguar spokesman of Pizzonia. "He certainly has potential."

In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

Race statistics

On-track action

News from Monza

Analysis

Jonathan Legard

F1 2002
See also:

12 Sep 02 | Formula One
07 Aug 02 | Motorsport
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