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Speed ends long wait for US F1 driver
Alan Baldwin | December 07, 2005 13:25 IST
Scott Speed will become the first American to race in Formula One for more than a decade after Scuderia Toro Rosso confirmed him for 2006 on Tuesday.
The Red Bull-owned team, who have bought struggling Minardi, said the 22-year old from Manteca, California, would partner Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi when the 19 round championship starts in Bahrain on March 12.
The last American to compete in Formula One was Michael Andretti, son of 1978 world champion Mario, who had an unhappy 13-race stint at McLaren in 1993.
Speed will be the 80th US driver to have competed in the championship since the first race in 1950, although that includes Indy 500 entrants up to 1960.
He can also expect to become the first American to race in front of his home crowd since Eddie Cheever finished third for Arrows in the 1989 US Grand Prix in Phoenix, Arizona.
"In a word, fantastic," said Speed. "It's certainly a feeling of excitement. To bring F1 closer to the American public is exciting.
"It's going to be incredible to be on the grid in America, and at Indy with all the support behind me. I'm really looking forward to it."
His presence will be a big boost for US Grand Prix organisers after the fiasco of this year's race which saw just six cars competing after the seven Michelin-equipped teams withdrew for tyre safety reasons.
That failure was seen as a public relations disaster for a sport struggling to win over a US audience more in tune with the NASCAR series. Only two US drivers -- Phil Hill and Mario Andretti -- have been Formula One champions and the latter was the last to win a race in 1978.
Speed raced this year in GP2, finishing third overall in Formula One's junior feeder series, and had been due to be reserve driver for Red Bull's main F1 team.
The American has had to contend with colitis, a digestive tract illness, during his career but won both the German and Eurocup Formula Renault championships last year.
"There's been so much hard work, so much we've had to overcome...," said Speed.
"To be an American in F1, it took so much work to move here and prove to people that I belonged, and the work is just starting.
"It's one step closer to my goal of being world champion."
The Italy-based Scuderia said 21-year-old Swiss Neel Jani would be their test and reserve driver. Speed, Liuzzi and Jani are graduates of Red Bull junior teams.
Liuzzi, 24, is the only one with previous Grand Prix race experience, starting four times for Red Bull Racing this year and scoring a point on his debut at Imola in April.
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