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Dixon tests with Williams on Friday

LONDON -- New Zealander Scott Dixon knows
all about turning left after two years of oval racing in
America.

Whether the Indy Racing League champion also has the
right stuff for Formula One is something that Williams wants to
find out.

Dixon is eager to take his career in a new direction and now
he has a chance, with a first Formula One test in the south of
France on Friday to be followed by a more exhaustive and
meaningful session in Spain early next month.

If the 23-year-old does well enough, he may just have a
chance of following in the footsteps of Canadian Jacques
Villeneuve, Italian Alex Zanardi and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

All won championships in America before being signed by
Williams.

The BMW-powered team needs to replace Colombian Montoya, who
departs for McLaren at the end of the year, and possibly
Germany's Ralf Schumacher as well.

Nobody is suggesting that Dixon, who drives for Chip Ganassi, is anything more than one of
several candidates at present and not even a frontrunner at that
but he has caught Williams's eye as they cast around for
available talent.

"It's really just to have the opportunity to take a look at
him, he's a young chap and he's openly stated that he'd like to
be in Formula One," said Williams technical director Patrick
Head in Malaysia last weekend.

"He was IRL champion last year, made things happen for him
when the opportunity came. We're just interested to have a look,
let him have a look at Formula One and we'll see where it goes
from there.

"There are a number of people we are interested in and
certainly Scott Dixon is one of them."

Ganassi and Williams have a long-standing relationship, with
Williams recommending Zanardi and Montoya to Ganassi and both
drivers later returning to Europe to drive for Williams after
winning CART championships.

"This is a good opportunity for Scott to test his mettle in an
F1 car," Ganassi said.

Dixon, who was an F1 fan while growing up in New Zealand and
Australia, said he is excited about the opportunity to test the
Williams car.

"Frank Williams and Chip Ganassi have both been very supportive
of this test and are giving me every chance to prove myself,"
Dixon said. "In the meantime, my focus will be on defending the
IRL championship this season and on the Indy 500 in just over a
month from now."

Dixon got off to a bad start in the IRL, crashing out of the
season-opener in Homestead. But he came back to finish second to
winner Tony Kanaan last Sunday in Phoenix. The next race is April
17 in Motegi, Japan.

Villeneuve's test

The sweltering day in August 1995 when Canadian Villeneuve
first stepped into one of Frank Williams's cars at Silverstone
and almost upstaged Briton Damon Hill remains vivid in the
memory.

But any comparison with Dixon's test would be overblown.

Villeneuve, son of the late Ferrari great Gilles, had the
name and he also had the fame as an Indy 500 winner -- like
Montoya after him.

The idiosyncratic Canadian had also proved his mettle on
road circuits in a CART championship that had yet to be weakened
by the split into two rival series. Dixon also competed in CART before moving with Ganassi to the IRL.

More importantly still, Villeneuve had the backing of Formula One
chief Bernie Ecclestone and it never hurts to have Mr. E
fighting on your side.

Ecclestone wanted Villeneuve in the championship and he got
what he wanted.

"Obviously the decision to go with Jacques was fundamentally
ours but Bernie was certainly very strongly encouraging us to
run Villeneuve and to take him the following year," said Head.

"I don't think he feathered our nest in any way to make it
possible but he was certainly very keen on that happening.

"Bernie hasn't said anything to us about Scott Dixon. But
we're interested to have a look anyway."

Most people suspect that Williams have either Jaguar's
Australian Mark Webber or Briton Jenson Button at the top of their shopping list.

But both have their hands tied and their availability is
likely to depend on how their teams perform by a given date in
the championship.

"We've talked to a number of people," said Head. "As is
fairly well known, a number of people who could be available
have limiting clauses in their contracts that might mean they
are available, might mean they are not."

If Dixon turns out to be quick, then he could provide
another alternative. His profile in the United States can only
be an asset in sponsorship terms.

"It's hard to know what Williams is looking for," said the
driver last weekend. "Our main focus is the (IRL) championship,
this is just a test added to the schedule.

"I'm sure it will be a great experience."

Montoya reckoned the IRL man would do a good job, once he
had settled down.

"I think the last one or two years he has been doing ovals
so it is going to take a little time to get into the rhythm,
especially in an F1 car," he said. "He's pretty good. I think he
will do all right."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.