By Andrew Benson
India's Narain Karthikeyan is on the verge of securing a Formula One drive with Jordan in 2005.
Karthikeyan is set to be the first Indian to race in F1
Jordan sporting director Trevor Carlin told BBC Sport that the team were in talks with Karthikeyan and that a deal was "not finalised, but is very close".
The team have offered the 28-year-old the drive, but he must firm up a sponsorship package before the deal could be completed, Carlin said.
Karthikeyan would be the first Indian F1 driver if he secures the seat.
The driver told a news conference in Mumbai (Bombay) on Tuesday: "In principle I have agreed to drive for the Jordan F1 team for the 2005 season. We will be signing the agreement in the next couple of days."
Jordan were taken over last month by the Canadian billionaire Alex Shnaider's Midland Group, but Carlin said the team needed drivers to bring funds in 2005.
Midland's plan had been to enter F1 in 2006 with a car designed by the Italian constructor Dallara.
The team decided instead to buy Jordan and race in 2005 as a stop-gap before the full plan is put into operation next year.
"We're a year ahead of schedule. We're using this year as a learning year and building for 2006, so we don't want to use up next year's budget this year," said Carlin, for whom Karthikeyan drove in British Formula Three in recent years.
"Narain has some good sponsors. He's pretty quick - but a bit wild as well. He'll be quite exciting."
Carlin denied reports on the Reuters news agency that Karthikeyan would definitely drive for the team in 2005.
Reuters quoted Karthikeyan's manager, Sanjay Sharma, saying: "Narain has been offered a drive by Jordan as their number one. He has accepted."
Carlin said Karthikeyan's chances of sealing the deal were strong - "about 90%".
"He's still got to find some funds, but it's very close. The sponsorship package seems strong."
Born: 14/1/77, Chennai (Madras)
1996: Wins Formula Asia title
1998-2000: Formula Three, four wins
2001: Tests for Jaguar and Jordan F1 teams
2004: Wins two races in Nissan World Series
India's second-largest business conglomerate, the Tata Group, and state-run oil company Bharat Petroleum Corp will initially have their logos on the car by virtue of being his sponsors, Karthikeyan said.
"It's a momentous day for me and it has indeed been a long journey," he added.
"Today, I can see my dream of becoming India's first F1 driver become a reality. The last 48 hours have been very tough and very hectic. We've had good news in the end, so it has eventually been worth all that."
He said he still needed to complete the required mileage in an F1 car to qualify for the necessary licence, but was confident he would be able to be competitive.
"I've raced with drivers such as Jenson Button and Takuma Sato before, and I've beaten them on my day," he said.
"They're doing pretty well in Formula One, so that gives me confidence that I too can compete."
Carlin said Jordan had not yet finalised their other driver but they did not feel it had to be someone with F1 experience.
Midland F1 managing director Colin Kolles last week expressed an interest in signing BAR test driver Anthony Davidson.
But the website of Autosport magazine said that Portuguese Tiago Monteiro, who was Karthikeyan's team-mate in Carlin's Nissan World Series team last year, was favourite.
Karthikeyan, 28, was the first Indian to drive a Formula One car. He was offered an F1 drive by Minardi in 2003 but was unable to raise the funds required to secure the offer.