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JANUARY 26, 2001

Villeneuve backs Panis to shoot BAR to front of grid

JACQUES VILLENEUVE has backed new British American Racing team-mate Olivier Panis to shoot the team to the front of the grid.

The Canadian said that the signing of Panis would ensure that BAR became a full race team in a thinly-veiled dig at former team-mate Ricardo Zonta.

Villeneuve said: "The only reason I race is because I like being there pushing it to the limit. Olivier is a great driver and he is an experienced born racer and has won Monaco.

"The job he did last year was useful and everything will step up in the team now. We haven't been a full race team in the past because the other driver (Zonta) has not had enough experience. The team has to step up and we want to be up front and we will definitely be there."

Panis himself returned the compliment and said that he expected his BAR experience to be more rewarding than his test driver role at McLaren last season.

"I'm pleased to be back because I've watched it on the television but I just want to race," Panis said. "Last year I drove for a very strong team but I like BAR because they are very motivated and they have good people in the team.

"Jacques did well last year and I want to do well with him this year. I've got big respect for him because he's won the championship and it will be very good to work together. I'll push him as much as possible."