The 2003 Formula 1 season reaches a thrilling culmination at the Suzuka circuit in Japan this weekend.

Panasonic Toyota Racing is one of five teams separated by just six points in the constructors' championship and the team is targeting its tenth consecutive top ten grid position and a points finish at its home race in an effort to finish as high up the classification as possible.

Ryan Briscoe and Ricardo Zonta carried out Japanese Grand Prix preparations in Jerez last week, evaluating Michelin tyres, testing new aero parts and conducting work on a further evolution of the RVX-03 engine. The team amassed almost 400 laps over four days at the Spanish track with Briscoe running on the first three days, before handing over to Zonta on Friday.

Meanwhile, race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta got Toyota's home grand prix week underway last Sunday, performing demonstration runs of the TF103 in front of thousands of Japanese fans at Megaweb in Tokyo - the corporation's largest showroom in the world.

At 5.807 kilometres, the Suzuka circuit is the longest on the calendar, despite being slightly reduced in length after modifications to the 130R corner for this year's event. The ultra-fast, low-downforce track is technically demanding and requires absolute precision from both the car and driver alike.

The team will debut its new specification of RVX-03 engine, which has more power and even better driveability, as well as new rear and front wings to maximize aerodynamic efficiency.

"The Japanese Grand Prix is possibly the most important of the season for Panasonic Toyota Racing," commented team boss, Ove Andersson, "Not only is it our official home race, but we also find ourselves in a very close battle in the constructors' championship, with only six points splitting fifth place from ninth.

"We are again fully focused on qualifying our cars in a position on the grid from which to fight for a top-eight race result. Suzuka should suit our car quite well, so I am optimistic we can put a TF103 in the top half of the grid for the fourteenth race and from there aim for points in front of our Japanese fans. As always, we will do all we can to give them something to cheer about on Sunday afternoon."

Olivier Panis will take part in his tenth Japanese GP this weekend, the Frenchman's best results at Suzuka coming in 1995 and 1996 when he drove for Ligier, finishing fifth and seventh. Last year Panis retired, and although the US GP two weeks ago wasn't very positive in terms of a race result - he spun off on lap 27 - third place in qualifying gives him good reason to be optimistic.

"Suzuka is a fantastic circuit and the perfect way to end such an exciting season," noted Panis, "It is a very fast track and with a nice combination of slow corners, off-camber corners, long straights and fast changes of direction, which should suit our car. The Esses are where you find most lap time at this circuit, so we will work a lot in this area.

"The Japanese Grand Prix is obviously very special to Toyota and if the fans from Megaweb are anything to go by, it will be a special atmosphere in Suzuka this weekend. Being so close to fifth place in the championship, it will be our aim to end the season in the best position possible and I am as determined as ever to fight for points."

For Cristiano da Matta this weekend will be his first taste of the Suzuka circuit, however the Brazilian won't be using that as an excuse, and will be pushing to score as many points as possible.

"I have never driven at Suzuka before," said da Matta, "but from what I have seen and heard, it is a very technical circuit, so we will have an important session on Friday morning to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

"Olivier and myself have been busy in Japan since last Sunday when we gave fans in Tokyo the chance to see the TF103 in action at Megaweb. It was pretty remarkable to see so many people turn up. I just hope we can reward their support with some points in Toyota's home race this weekend, as we look to improve on our eighth place in the constructors' championship. From a personal point of view, I will also be pushing hard to gain places in the drivers' standings."



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