Olivier Panis surprised the Formula One paddock by clinging onto a second row start for the United States Grand Prix, the best ever for the second-year Toyota team.

Having been caught out by the onset of heavy rain in Friday's session, Panis had to run early in the grid-setting session, but he made full use of the powerful Toyota V10 at his disposal to remain on the provisional front row until the final two runners ventured out. Only then was Rubens Barrichello able to push the Frenchman back to row two, with Kimi Raikkonen having earlier snatched provisional pole from the Toyota driver.

Third spot - ahead of both Williams-BMWs as well as world champion Michael Schumacher - was a source of great pride for both driver and team.

"This is a brilliant result for the entire team, while I have not started a race on the second row of the grid since the grand prix in Argentina back in 1997," Panis pointed out, "I am looking forward to having some fun in the race tomorrow alongside some of the most competitive drivers in the field."

The Frenchman was quick to add that neither he nor the Toyota crew had expected to fare so well in America, but that they had all deserved the reward after a tireless effort during the year.

"We have had a mixed season in terms of results, but it is fabulous to see the rewards of our non-stop efforts," he said, "I know that we are not yet in a position to fight for victory, but we have a good car and I expect to pick up a lot of points tomorrow to try and catch BAR-Honda and Jaguar, our nearest rivals in the championship."

For team boss Ove Andersson, the result was both unexpected and overwhelming.

"I am speechless!" the Swede admitted, "In only our 32nd race, we have qualified a Toyota on the second row of the grid after Olivier took third place with a really impressive lap.

"The atmosphere in the garage during that session was absolutely remarkable, and I have to say a big thank-you to all the guys for producing such a fantastic result. The cars have looked competitive since first thing yesterday morning and, if luck is on our side tomorrow, we should expect to pick up a few points."

Panis' team-mate Cristiano da Matta will start ninth overall, just ahead of provisional polesitter Jarno Trulli.

 

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