The Italian Grand Prix at the renowned Autodromo Nazionale di Monza this weekend heralds the European finale of this season's FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

Monza has played host to an F1 race on 52 occasions prior to this year's event and only once has it not held the Italian GP, having handed over the reins to Imola back in 1980.

Panasonic Toyota Racing completed a three-day, three-car test at the Italian track last week. The team's full complement of drivers - race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta and third driver Ricardo Zonta - were on hand to complete 641 laps of the circuit, which equates to over twelve race distances.

Work was divided up into Italian Grand Prix preparations and more long-term development work for the remaining races of the season in the United States and Japan.

At 5.793-kilometres in length and with average speeds of around 250kmh, Monza is one of the longest and fastest laps on this year's calendar.

The track comprises numerous fast straights and kerbed chicanes, which means that the TF103s will need to have the right combination of mechanical grip, good traction and low downforce to be quick this weekend.

"We tested in Monza recently with three cars and all three drivers and I hope that we can translate the productive work we carried out into tangible race results at the Italian GP," said team boss, Ove Andersson, "However, every team has carried out intensive work at the track in the past week, so it is difficult to gauge where we will stand in comparison to our rivals.

"Although it is a track that should suit our car reasonably well, it will be important to find the best set-up on the car early on Friday morning. I remain hopeful that we can once again attain the sort of performance level that we have demonstrated in recent races as we aim for our eighth successive top ten grid position and more championship points."

Panis, who had a difficult Hungarian GP three weeks ago - retiring after 33 laps - finished sixth last year at the Italian track when he was racing for BAR-Honda, and he would be more than pleased to that feat this weekend.

"Monza is a very high speed circuit, in fact the fastest on the calendar, and one I enjoy racing on because in the past there have been some good on-track battles," said Panis, "We did some good work at the test in preparation for this weekend's race after an unrewarding race in Hungary. At Monza, it is very important to get a good compromise between mechanical grip and low downforce levels. We need good mechanical grip over the kerbs but at the same time you need to have minimum downforce to be quick in a straight-line. I think we should perform reasonably well at the Italian Grand Prix, but the picture will be clearer by Friday lunchtime."

da Matta meanwhile like his team-mate is also feeling positive and while this will be his first race there in a F1 car, last weeks test at least means that he can get straight on with things on Friday, without having to learn the track.

"The three-day test in Monza was my first time around the track in an F1 car, and whilst it is a very fast track, I don't find it as technically challenging as some others on the calendar," noted the Brazilian, "Even so, I am looking forward to this weekend's race. I completed over 200 laps at the test, which means I can get down to business immediately on Friday without having to spend free practice learning my way around the circuit.

"With only three races left, our objectives still remain to get in the top half of the grid and to score more championship points. We are determined to end the season on a high note."



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