Toyota hand McNish spot in big league

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Allan McNish has been rewarded for his service to the Formula One newcomers Toyota with a place in the Japanese team next season.

The Scotsman proved his worth to Toyota last season with a wealth of laps on the test track and has been given the No 2 drive alongside Finland's Mika Salo.

The Finn's experience in F1 guaranteed him a position but the 31-year-old McNish had to prove himself as the team began the hard work of preparing for next season.

McNish, from Dumfries, is sure all the hours spent on the test track will stand him in good stead when he takes to the wheel of Toyota's F1 car for the real thing.

"I have been deeply involved with the team in the development of the Toyota F1 car from the very beginning of the project," McNish said. "In the process, my ability as an F1 driver was recognised and I am very happy to be officially chosen as a driver for the coming season."

Toyota launched their F1 car in March and announced at the time that McNish would be one of their drivers if everything went well during planned test sessions. Their decision to appoint McNish has come as a welcome boost to a driver who made his name in sports car racing after starting, like so many others, in karting.

"This fills me with confidence that I can accomplish the difficult tasks ahead," said McNish. "There is a mountain of things we must do before our first race next year, and I intend to fully devote myself to bringing out my very best."

McNish, who finished third in the 1981 world karting championship, was also an F1 test driver for McLaren and Benetton before moving into sports cars where he won the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1998 for Porsche.

His career also took a knock in 1990 when he was involved in a Formula 3000 accident at Donington Park that killed a spectator.

The highlight of his sports car career, which also saw him race the Daytona 24 Hour Race for the Risi Ferrari team, was last year's championships victory in the American Le Mans series for Toyota.

That led to McNish being given the test driver's seat for the new F1 team and from there he has moved up to the race team. McNish's bosses believe he has the capabilities to make his mark in the more demanding world of F1.

"As our team has yet to participate in active F1 competition there are numerous challenges that we must face down the road," said Tsutomu Tomita, managing director of the Toyota Motor Corporation. "Allan McNish is fast and is gifted with exceptional development potential. As such we have concluded that combining Mika and Allan in our first year would be the best way to go."

Following the press conference at Suzuka to announce McNish's appointment both he and Salo went straight into three days of testing at the Japanese circuit.