Jarno Trulli has for the first time been named as a leading target for F1 2010 newcomers Lotus next year - but the Italian insists that he has not yet agreed terms with any team, casting further doubt over the identity of the driver who is alleged to have already been signed up by the Malaysian-backed outfit.

Last week, Lotus F1 acting team principal Tony Fernandes wrote on his Twitter feed that one driver's signature had already been secured for the Norfolk-based concern's maiden campaign at the highest level, with immediate speculation focussing on three names - Toyota refugee Trulli, impressive late-season debutant Kamui Kobayashi and young Malaysian hopeful and 2009 World Series by Renault runner-up Fairuz Fauzy.

Due to his close links and strong working relationship with chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne - with whom he worked at Jordan, Renault and subsequently Toyota - it has been mooted that Trulli is all-but a shoo-in for one of the two seats. Whilst admitting that no official announcement will be made until both drivers are confirmed later this month - as Lotus wants to 'act rather than just react to the others' - Gascoyne has confessed that Trulli's blend of experience and raw speed would be a real boon to a team just starting out in F1.

"Over a single lap, Jarno is always able to do an excellent time," the Englishman told French sports newspaper L'?quipe. "It's important for a team to know fairly quickly where it is on a Saturday. Jarno would give us that."

However, having already professed his concerns about the state of health of F1 in the light of the manufacturer withdrawals of Honda, BMW, Bridgestone and Toyota - and possibly also Renault yet to come - over the past twelve months, it is not out of the question that the veteran of 216 grand prix starts could head across the Pond to compete in the hugely popular, ultra-competitive NASCAR series in 2010, having yesterday (Wednesday) tried out a Sprint Cup Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, after previously spending time with the team at Phoenix at the weekend.

Whilst former grand prix rivals Juan-Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve have both made the switch from single-seaters to stock cars in recent years - with a good deal of success in the former's case - and Mika Salo is set to do the same, Trulli has urged that his exploratory outing came merely out of curiosity and, with his immediate priority being to remain in F1, it was not the precursor to a full-on career change...not yet, at least.

"In every business there are people who are professionals and specialised in that kind of business," the 35-year-old is quoted as having said by itv-f1.com. "I've never thought that a Formula 1 driver can step into another car and be immediately competitive. A Formula 1 driver might do a good job eventually in the future in this sort of area, but it's tricky, very tricky, because there are a lot of tricks and things you have to know."

Trulli worked his way up-to-speed gradually over the course of his 300 laps around the half-mile oval, peaking with an average speed of around 130mph in what was a slightly-damaged car - an impressive feat given that it was the first time he had competitively driven any machine with a roof over it.

"In the beginning, it was a big shock for me," he candidly reflected. "It was the first time in my life I was leaving pit road in a closed cockpit - I needed to get used to that feeling of not having my head out. I'm used to being in a stiff car on the ground. The Cup car moves around a lot; it requires skill, feeling and understanding. There are so many different factors and you need to be a smart person to be aware of what is happening around you.

"Running at New Smyrna is easy and very exciting, but racing might be difficult - it would take a lot of experience. I prefer a high-speed circuit, but at least I have a taste and know the feeling. It was important for me to understand what I have to do to get better. In driving the car, I must understand the car. I have to trust it. The centre and exit of the corner are important [and] baking is crucial."

"Both Jarno and Mika have done really well," remarked Steve Hallam, executive vice-president of competition for Michael Waltrip Racing and a 27-year F1 veteran. "They have both delivered competitive lap times, they bring a different perspective to our ears [and] we are able to hear about the cars in a different way. It has been a really positive test, and has brought good value to us."

"They wanted to test our Toyota and see what our sport is all about," corroborate a clearly impressed Waltrip. "They did an outstanding job and were turning some pretty quick times. We were just as serious about this two-day test as they were - we brought down an entire crew. Toyota, our team and engineers fully supported this effort. We were 100 per cent committed to giving it our all, just like we would at any of our tests."

"We have two enormously talented drivers that showed interest in trying NASCAR," added Ty Norris, MWR vice-president and general manager. "MWR wanted to participate because we are always interested in recruiting talent, and we have a great desire to expand to a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team in the near future. We know the talent pool currently racing in NASCAR, so it is of great interest to us to evaluate talent from other racing disciplines. It just adds another international element to our organisation."

Pescara native Trulli has stressed that he will only make a final decision regarding his future plans once his commitments to Toyota are completed, following this weekend's Toyota Motor Sport Festival at Fuji in Japan.

"I didn't know about NASCAR until Juan-Pablo Montoya made his move," he concluded. "The world has changed and everyone is looking at different series'. I haven't signed with anyone yet and I've talked to teams. My door is open right now."


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