24 Jul 08
Over the WRC summer break Suzuki World Rally Team drivers Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister have been kicking back at their homes in Sweden and Finland, but they've also been keeping their competitive hands in with a spot of competition.
Like Dani Sordo, Toni Gardemeister took part in the O.K. Auto Ralli, the fifth round of the Finnish Rally Championship, and a perfect warm up to the forthcoming WRC round. Unlike Dani, however, Gardemeister drove his very own car, a Group F BMW M3.
"Along with taking my dogs out for a walk, driving the M3 is my favourite hobby," says Gardemeister. "I bought the car in Italy in 2004, drove it to Finland and started to rebuild it. I've spent a few hundred hours working on it so far. For now it has a three-litre engine and 295bhp, but up to 400bhp is possible."
With three class wins from the three rallies he had started with the M3, expectations of success were high before the event. Things started well, with Gardemeister and his co-driver Miia Katajala (who is also his girlfriend) winning every stage and leading Group F by 2min 58 sec after the sixth stage. But on the way to the seventh Gardemeister was forced to park up with a broken sump. "We had an excellent rally until the road section to the final stage when the oil pressure lamp came on," he explained. "Oil was leaking away from the engine and we still had one stage and a long transit section to go. I decided to retire to spare the engine from complete disaster."
Despite the retirement Gardemeister says he was happy with his performance - especially on SS4 where his rear-wheel drive car was challenging the pace of some four-wheel drive WRC and Group N machinery. "It was wonderful to see that my speed hasn't gone anywhere," he said. "I was glad to have made very good stage times and to have challenged the turbocharged 4WD cars. Naturally I was sad about the retirement but this time it's okay because this season I've been forced to get used to it in the World Rally Championship series!"
Per-Gunnar (P-G) has also been competing in the six week break - although he hadn't always planned to do it from inside a car. His original plan was to work as a mechanic for his father, Morgan's, Opel Ascona on Sweden's Midnattssolsrallyt, an event for classic rally cars over 28 years old.
P-G and some friends had built the Ascona for Morgan as a 60th birthday present and were going to service it on the Midnattssolsrallyt. But when Morgan's co-pilot was taken sick, P-G put on his overalls and jumped into the navigator's seat.
"We had been working night and day to get the car ready for the rally," said P-G. "I drove the trailer home one night and took my father out in the forest for a short practice. After his first runs he was like a little boy, just wanted to drive more! After than I put the car back on the trailer and drove it the 600km to the start in the south of Sweden. In total, the event was 160km long and had 18 stages over three days.