Da Matta aims to take Toyota places

PETALING JAYA: Cristiano Da Matta, a F1 rookie at the age of 29, is a guitar player. And the Toyota driver is already playing the right tunes in the F1. 

The savvy driver, who was crowned CART champion with six rounds remaining last year, exudes a high-level of confidence, seems to fear no one and is a very practical person too. 

And he has set his sights on bringing the giant Japanese team to a higher level in only their second season in the F1. 

FORMULA ONE ROOKIE: Toyota driver Cristiano Da Matta is a picture of contentment with his girlfriend Vanessa Franco Wednesday.

“We are not in the same level as the big teams but I am optimistic that we can finish within the top 10 in every race. If the car is able to live up to my expectations, we may even push to be within the top five,” said a cheerful Da Matta, who has been in motor racing for 12 years. 

In Toyota's debut last year, the team managed to get only two points through Mika Salo and finished 10th out of the 11 teams in the Constructors Championships. Alan McNish failed to secure any point. 

Besides Da Matta, Toyota has another new driver in Olivier Panis and a new test driver, Ricardo Zonta. 

Da Matta, who scored seven wins and seven poles in the CART Championships last year, said age should not be used against him in his maiden F1 venture. 

“I have been in motor racing for a long time but only now have I got the chance to feature in the F1. For me, age should not be the matter. Last year's champion (Michael Schumacher of Ferrari) is not young either and I look forward to a couple of good years in F1,” he said. 

The son of Toninho, a 14-time Brazilian touring car champion, racing has been in Da Matta's blood from a very young age. 

“I guess since I was born, I have been exposed to motor racing because of my father. I have always thought about the F1. At one stage, I had the option to go to US or go back to school. And I immediately grabbed the US trip,” said Da Matta, who started go-karting in Brazil in 1990. 

Wearing a helmet to his father's, changing only the colour from red to blue, Da Matta won every title in sight for two and a half years. 

Having won most of the races in Brazil, he moved to the US for the Indy Light Series in 1997 and won the rookie of the year award.  

Then, things flourished for Da Matta. His connection with Toyota started in 1999 when he was called to join Team Arciero Wells. He finished runner-up to Juan Pablo Montoya for rookie of the year.  

The F1, however, was not kind to Toyota in Melbourne.  

Both Da Matta and Panis retired from the race. 

Both, however, have warned that they would bounce back. 

“We work well together and both of us have the same target - to ensure that Toyota achieve its best results here.” 

Having tested the circuit on Tuesday, Da Matta heaped praises on the Sepang track. 

“I drove a couple of laps and it is probably one of the nicest circuits that I have seen.”  

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