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Nakajima joins Tyrrell

KEN TYRRELL announced last Wednesday in Tokyo that he has signed a three-year "marketing consultancy agreement" with his former driver Satoru Nakajima. As part of the deal Nakajima becomes the team's Sporting Director and joins the Tyrrell board of directors.

As part of the deal Nakajima's longtime sponsor PIAA - an auto accessory and clothing company - will be a major Tyrrell sponsor in 1997 and Nakajima's prot?g? 22-year-old Toranosuke Takagi will become Tyrrell's 1997 test driver with a view to graduating into the race team in 1998.

The details of the deal - which Nakajima referred to as a "partnership" - remain unclear but it is likely that Ken Tyrrell has sold Nakajima a shareholding. Tyrrell has had a variety of partners over the years - notably Dutch timber millionaire JanĘBosch - but has never given up control of the company. There have been several attempts to buy the team in recent years notably by Giuseppe Cipriani's Il Barone Rampante Formula 3000 team and Keith Wiggins's Pacific Racing, both in 1991.

There have been rumors since June that 43-year-old Nakajima has been negotiating to buy Tyrrell. He was involved in talks in August for Tyrrell to use Mugen Honda engines in 1997 - although that deal went to Ligier.

There has been some speculation in Japan that Nakajima is either acting on behalf of Honda - or trying to convince Honda - to use Tyrrell as the basis of a all-Honda F1 team in 1999 and beyond.

Nakajima and Honda have very strong links. Nakajima was placed at Lotus in 1987 as part of a deal which saw Lotus get the use of Honda engines. He stayed a Lotus for three seasons - although Honda quit at the end of 1988. In 1990 he moved to Tyrrell and the team ran Mugen-prepared Honda V10 engines in 1991. At the end of that year Honda pulled out of Tyrrell and - at the age of 38 - Nakajima retired from racing, having competed in 74 GPs. He never finished higher than fourth place.

Nakajima continued to have strong Honda links after his retirement and in January 1994 it was Satoru who gave the Honda-Honda RC101B chassis its first public demonstration runs. This car was built by Honda's R&D engineers but, according to Honda president Nobuhiko Kawamoto was not an official program. This claim has never been taken seriously as the RC101B was in fact the third such chassis (after the secret RC100 and RC101).

Throughout his F1 career Nakajima enjoyed support from PIAA and the company has continued to back his current projects in Japanese racing. Satoru's Nakajima Planning operation runs teams in Formula Nippon (with Takagi), Formula 3 and the Japanese Touring Car Championship plus racing and karting schools in Japan.

The signing of Takagi may open the way for Tyrrell to retain its Mild Seven sponsorship for 1997 as the young Japanese star is tipped to replace Ukyo Katayama as Mild Seven's driver in F1.

The appointment of Takagi as test driver could be a blessing in disguise for Tyrrell's current tester Emmanuel Collard. The PIAA money could do away with the team's need to take a paying driver in 1997 which would open the way for the Frenchman to become Mika Salo's team mate.

It is, however, hard to imagine that Tyrrell would turn away Ricardo Rosset - rumored to have a $5m budget - as the Brazilian is clearly a useful driver, even if he has been unable to prove it this year with Arrows.

Tyrrell's head of marketing since 1993, Noel Stanbury, is leaving the team, although is expected to continue as a consultant with the team.

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