Crowned by Jarno Trulli's battling podium finish in the French Grand Prix, Toyota is making a play to be the fourth power in Formula One, with team president John Howett claiming that the Cologne-based squad is enjoying its best campaign for some time.

With points finishes in six of the ten races so far, there have been many good memories for the team to look back on, but one stands out above all others. When Trulli went wheel-to-wheel with Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren in the final laps at Magny-Cours, the entire team held its breath before the TF108 crossed the line ahead of its rival, provoking cheers of genuine joy as a wait of more than two years was brought to an end.

"It was our first podium since Melbourne 2006, so it was a huge boost for the team and it gave us the confidence that we can do it - we can be back on the podium," senior general manager Pascal Vasselon said, reflecting on the year so far.

It was a poignant moment too, coming just days after the death of Panasonic Toyota Racing's first team principal Ove Andersson in a car accident, but, while the podium may have been sweet, it also went some way to achieving Toyota's target for the year. The team has always set itself ambitious targets and, while its overall aim is to win races and the world championship, the specific goals for 2008 were to return to the podium and score significantly more points than in 2007. With 25 points and that third place in France already in the bag, there is some degree of satisfaction.

"I think we've had the strongest season for a long time - both drivers are doing very well," Howett confirmed, "Overall we're fighting at the top level of the midfield but, in front of us, are three very strong competitors. We have had a good season so far, but we still have a lot more to do before we achieve our ambition of becoming a consistent winning team. Clearly, we want to win and we're still behind the top teams, so we can't be satisfied until we close that gap."

Along with many seasoned observers, Howett has been particularly impressed with Trulli's form this season.

"Jarno's season has probably been the strongest he has had with us," he claimed, "He had a great season in 2005, with a lot of podiums, but I think this year, when you really look at his total pace, has been better. The result in France was outstanding, as was his performance at Silverstone when he drove his strongest race in the wet for a long time."

While the Italian veteran has combined experience and blistering speed to score 20 of the team's 25 points, Howett insists that rookie team-mate Timo Glock has brought a new enthusiasm to the squad, with only bad luck limiting him to his present tally.

"Timo has settled in very quickly," he said, "At the first test, he proved he was quick and, since then, he's worked very well. He's popular in the team, he's very down to earth and he's quick - and everybody likes a quick racing driver!"

While there is satisfaction at the clear progress that has been made over last year, both with the TF108 and in the drivers' own development, the team's ambition has spawned a new target for the remaining eight grands prix - fourth place in the constructors' championship. That result, however, will be closely contested by the likes of Renault and Red Bull

"We really have to continue to squeeze as much performance out of the TF108 as we can," Howett admits, "We want to score points regularly and maintain fourth position in the championship - but without compromising the TF109's development. It is a very challenging second half of the year."


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