19 Feb 08
Date of birth:
WRC points at end of 2007:
First WRC win:
2005: Four podium placings with Ford, including second at Monte Carlo and Acropolis. Finished fourth in the WCD.
2002: Joined Skoda for three years.
2001: Overall leader at Monte Carlo.
1999: Best 'F2' car at Monte Carlo. 3rd in New Zealand on his first rally with a World Rally Car (SEAT Cordoba)
There are going to be cakes for everyone in Mexico where Toni Gardemeister is on track to start the 100th world championship rally in his career. There have been 12 long and hard years leading up to this, but Toni comes back to the WRC as the longest running participant in the sport; the only driver to have been seen in world championship events for more than ten years. He returns after two lean seasons, following earlier full year contracts with SEAT (both with its 2-litre Kit Cars, then its Cordoba World Rally Cars), Skoda with its Octavia and Fabia WRCs and then with the Ford Focus. Added to this, he has rallied Peugeot 206 WRC and 307 WRC, Mitsubishi Carisma GT and Xsara WRC, making him quite the most experienced world rally car driver in the championship today.
Motorsport has never been far away from Gardemeister's life. His home town was Kuovola, where special stages on rallies in winter are not just run on rivers or lakes, but sometimes on the frozen open sea. Toni started the upward progression in the sport when he was invited by Finnish driver promoter Timo Jouhki, and that all started off with encouragement from Juha Kankkunen. Working as gravel note crew driver for Tommi Makinen helped life along, and eventually Toni's first works entry came from SEAT with an Ibiza Kit Car in New Zealand in 1998. Toni's first rally in a World Rally Car was also in New Zealand in 1999 when as a 'Formula 2' driver he was invited to join Harri Rovanpera and Piero Liatti in the SEAT WRC team, gaining a remarkable and quite unexpected podium result with the Cordoba WRC.
After a year in the shadows in 2001 in which Toni drove a Peugeot at Monte Carlo and came fifth, he had three seasons with Skoda before a strong season with Ford in 2005 when he finished every rally except two, the first being when he was excluded for running an underweight car on Wales Rally GB after the organisers washed away all the mud from under the car! The second retirement was with an alternator problem on the debut of the '06 Focus. 2006 and 2007 were two more lean years, waiting firstly for the Mitsubishi problems to resolve themselves and then entering non-championship events to maintain his skills, before being invited to Suzuki for 2008.