Toyota Motorsport GmbH today announced that 2002 CART champion Cristiano da Matta has signed a two-year contract to become a Formula 1 race driver for the Panasonic Toyota Racing team from the 2003 season.

The 29-year-old Brazilian will partner Frenchman Olivier Panis in 2003 and 2004.

Da Matta has driven Toyota-powered cars in the United States CART series since his CART debut in 1999, and his new Formula 1 deal sees him cement this successful relationship.

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. He joined Toyota at the start of his career in the CART programme and has shown his tremendous dedication and efforts by helping us to develop together to win the championship with Newman/Haas Racing this season. His long-term partnership with Toyota and his natural driving talent will prove an essential asset to us as our Formula 1 programme enters an exciting new stage of development."

Cristiano da Matta commented: "I have accomplished one of my goals by winning the CART driver's championship title. 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 Panasonic Toyota Racing and more importantly to further develop my already successful partnership with Toyota. To be able to combine this with driving in Formula 1 - the top motorsport series in the world - 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 1 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!"

Cristiano da Matta Profile

Born: 19 September 1973 - Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Full Name: Cristiano Monteiro da Matta.

Weight: 59kg

Height: 1m65

Lives in: Miami / Florida

Marital Status: Single

Hobbies: Guitar, Cycling and Swimming.

Cristiano da Matta was born on 19 September 1973, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. His father Toninho was 14-time Brazilian touring car champion whose career spanned three decades.

In 1990 Cristiano started in the Go-Kart Series and was a winner from the start. Adopting an identical helmet as his father wore, only alternating the colour red to blue, in two-and-a-half years he won every title. He was the winner of the Minas Championship in 1990 and 1991, the Brazilian Championship 1991, the Rio-Minas Championship 1992, and the Sao Paulo Championship 1992. Da Matta's next step was the 1993 Brazilian Formula Ford Championship and he won the title with 4 victories.

He moved up to Formula 3 in 1994, winning the Brazilian Championship with 4 wins and 2 races to go. The following year he went to England for the British Formula 3 Series and achieved one victory. Whilst taking part in Formula 3000 in 1996, he started to consider seriously to race in USA and in 1997 he relocated to the USA for the Indy Lights Series. Finishing the season in the 3rd position he was given the "Rookie of the Year" honour.

In 1998 he signed with the Tasman team and won the title with 4 wins. In only 2 years in the Indy Lights Series, Da Matta achieved 7 wins and 4 pole positions. 1999 was Da Matta's first year in the CART Fedex Championship when he was called up by team Arciero Wells, which was powered by Toyota engines and the Brazilian impressed in the opening race with 4th position on the grid, the best of all the Toyota-powered drivers. 2 races after that, in Nazareth, he earned a best finish of 4th.

In 2000, Cristiano drove for PPI Motorsports Toyota/Reynard 2K1 (previously named Arciero-Wells). He took his first victory in the CART series at Chicago and was placed 10th in the overall hampionship standings.

Cristiano joined Newman/Haas in 2001 and took his Toyota-powered Lola to 3 victories and a total of 5 podium finishes to finish 5th in the CART championship.

This year Da Matta captured CART driver championship with Newman/Haas and Toyota engine, dominating the CART series. As of the 18th race of the season, he had achieved 7 poles, 7 victories and a total of 10 podium finishes.

Career Highlights

1990-1992 Various karting championships in Brazil

1993 Brazilian Formula Ford championship - 1st (4 wins, 4 poles)

1994 Brazilian Formula 3 - 1st (4 wins, 7 poles)

1995 British Formula 3 - 8th (1 win)

1996 European F3000 - 8th (best result 4th)

1997 Indy Lights - 3 wins, rookie of the year

1998 Indy Lights Champion

1999 FedEx CART championship with Toyota engine - 18th (runner-up to Juan

Pablo Montoya for rookie of the year title)

2000 FedEx CART championship with Toyota engine - 10th (1 win)

2001 FedEx CART championship with Toyota engine - 5th (3 wins)

2002 FedEx CART championship with Toyota engine - Champion (7wins, 7 poles)

2003 Formula 1 driver for Panasonic Toyota Racing