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Toyota's 2006 driver programme members 11 Jan 2006

Franck Perera (FRA) Toyota. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 13-16 December 2005. World ©  Capilitan/Sutton

Toyota have announced six members for their 2006 Toyota Young Drivers Programme (TDP). The aim of the scheme is to support and nurture up-and-coming driver talent, some of which may eventually find its way into the company’s Formula One team.

First of the six is Frenchman Franck Perera, a veteran of the programme, who is promoted from the F3 Euro Series to the highly competitive GP2 Series in 2006. Perera's move to the top flight will see him race for the DAMS team and perform on a global stage, as GP2 acts as a Formula One support event for its second season.

Current programme incumbents Kohei Hirate and Kamui Kobayashi will be joined by newcomer to the scheme, Kazuki Nakajima. The Japaneses trio will all take part in the highly competitive F3 Euro Series, a championship in which Hirate finished 12th in his debut season last year. Hirate will move to the Manor team in 2006 to partner his new TDP colleague Nakajima. Kobayashi, reigning champion of both Formula Renault Italia and Eurocup, will move up a grade to join the ASM team, which so dominated the F3 field in 2005.

There are two new programme members this season with Dutchman Henkie Waldschmidt and Englishman Martin Plowman joining the scheme for 2006. Both will take part in the Italian Formula Renault and Eurocup championship with Prema Powerteam in their debut TDP season.

"We cannot guarantee that any of the drivers in the TDP will become Formula One drivers," explained Noritoshi Arai, who is in charge of the TDP from the Toyota Motorsport base in Cologne, Germany. "But one of the aims of the TDP is to seek out the next driving stars and to bring them up step-by-step to the racing series that most befits their talents. We will do all in our power to support them."