Team Rapax have confirmed their driver line-up for the GP2 Asia series.
The Italian team are aiming to follow up their hugely successful 2010 GP2 series campaign that saw them win the team's championship, and their chief driver Pastor Maldonado claim the driver's title. On the back of that success, Maldonado clinched the second race seat at Williams F1 for 2011.
With such a successful pedigree to live up to, 20-year-old Colombian driver Julian Leal - who will race alongside the previously-announced Fabio Leimer - has high expectations.
"When I found out that there was a chance to be on-track with Rapax I barely believed it was true. They dominated in 2010, what can I say more?" he said. "I'm really happy for having had this kind of opportunity and I hope to do well though I know it won't be easy. There are a lot of drivers with many years of GP2 racing behind their shoulders, but on the other hand my goal is to improve lap-by-lap."
Leal - who has raced in the AutoGP Championship with Trident and who appeared in 12 of last year's Formula Renault 3.5 championship races with the International Draco Racing outfit - impressed the team during the GP2 tests at Abu Dhabi in November in which he set the 15th fastest laptime.
"In the first test he entered in a GP2 series [Dallara] car, he proved able to adapt to a new car quickly, and showed a pretty professional approach. Our goal will be to provide him with the best possible chance to increase his experience," said Rapax managing director Andrea Bergamini. "We're proud to contribute to his professional growth and I believe this will be the start of a long and valuable co-operation."
Leal will be trying out the new Dallara, fitted with Pirelli tires, in the test sessions to be held at Abu Dhabi on February 1. He is only signed for GP2 Asia and his relative lack of single-seater experience may count against him in claiming the seat for the main series, but Leal remained optimistic.
"The feedback and the results coming from the GP2 Asia series will be key to raise my chances to enter the following main series," he said. "That's an additional motivation for me to be strong [from] the very beginning."
Leal's team mate Fabio Leimer was confirmed by the team for both GP2 Asia and the GP2 main series at the start of December. The Swiss driver drove for Ocean Racing Technology in GP2 in 2010 and won the opening weekend sprint race at Catalunya, but failed to score for the rest of the season and finished 19th in the championship. The 21-year-old Swiss driver had previously competed in Formula BMW ADAC, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Italian Formula Renault 2.0 before moving to International Formula Master, in which he was runner-up in 2008 and champion in 2009 before the switch to GP2.
The first GP2 Asia race is on February 11, while GP2 is scheduled to begin on May 7 as one of the support events at the Turkish F1 Grand Prix.