Toyota has today announced that its European young drivers programme will be consolidated with three youngsters continuing with the scheme in 2005.
The successful initiative will be renamed 'Toyota Young Drivers Programme' (TDP) in 2005, replacing the Toyota Drivers Academy (TDA) banner that has been in place since 2003. The TDP will continue to operate from Toyota Motorsport's base in Cologne, Germany by a team headed up by Noritoshi Arai.
F3 Euro series Rookie champion, Frenchman Franck Perera, will participate for a second year in the series, looking to challenge for the outright title in 2005. He will be joined in the series by rising Japanese star Kohei Hirate, who was runner-up in the 2004 Italian Formula Renault championship.
Perera will continue with Prema Powerteam, whilst Hirate will join forces with Team Rosberg, run by former F1 world champion Keke Rosberg.
"We have always had a good relationship with Prema Powerteam in both F3 and Formula Renault and we are pleased to continue our co-operation into 2005," explains Toyota Motorsport's Executive Vice-President, Yoshiaki Kinoshita. "We are still learning about the F3 series, so we have developed an additional contract with Team Rosberg. They are an F3 team with a top quality in engineering talent and one with whom we hope to be successful with in the future."
The third driver of the programme will be Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, who will take part in a second successive season in Italian Formula Renualt with Prema Powerteam, as well as racing in the Eurocup championship.
"Looking at our overall driver line-up from 2004, we wanted to select who we believe are the best all-round drivers," Kinoshita explains. "Kamui was second best of the rookies last season, but he won two races and we believe he will be a real challenger for the title in 2005."
"We have also delighted that Ryan Briscoe, who has developed himself in our young driver programme since 2001 has stepped forward to race for a Toyota-powered team in the US IRL series. He has already proved his speed among the top US open wheel drivers in the open tests and his immediate future looks extremely promising." Kinoshita adds.
Although the TDP is a European-based driver programme, the scheme will be totally united with Toyota's successful Japanese programme: the Formula Toyota Racing School (FTRS), which will also adopt the TDP name from 2005.
Kinoshita concludes: "At Toyota, we always operate on a global scale, so it is logical that we bring our young driver programmes closer together. With the merge of FTRS and TDA, we are now looking to find and develop Toyota's racing talent of the future in the top racing categories of the world. And both of these projects will enjoy the benefits of a unified management team."