Toni Gardemeister is one of the veteran drivers on the World Rally Championship’s stage. Born in Kouvala, Finland, in 1995, Toni will be breaking through the century mark for number of Rallies, in Rally Mexico in 2008. He is the longest running participant in the sport and is the only driver who has seen over a decade of the World Rally Championship events.
Toni comes from a town where motorsports have always been a part of the fanfare and attractions. In fact, the special stages for the winter rally events make the drivers take their cards over frozen rivers and lakes, and no, it doesn’t stop there. Cars are also driven over the frozen sea. Toni’s driving career started off with some kind words of encouragement from Juha Kankkunen. He was invited by Timo Jouhki, a Finnish driver promoter to start training for the big stage. He mainly worked as the Gravel note crew driver for Tommi Makinen and this helped him gain valuable experience and an eventual entry into the SEAT team.
In New Zealand, in 1998, Toni got the chance of a lifetime as well as a Seat Ibiza Car Kit. His first race, as a rally driver, was also in New Zealand where, as a Formula 2 driver, he got the invitation to join Harri Rovanpera and Piero Liatti in the SEAT World Rally Team. He took a remarkably unexpected podium result behind the Cordoba World Rally car’s wheel.
2001 was a layoff period for Toni as he drove a Peugeot at the Monte Carlo to come in at fifth place. He followed this up with three unexceptional seasons with the Skoda racing team before moving on to an incredibly impressive season with Ford. In 2005, Gardemeister finished every rally except two, where he was excluded for two extremely opposite reasons. The first retirement led to his exclusion for running an underweight car. The car weighed perfectly on the scales till the organizers washed away all the mud stuck under the car. As the mud fell, so did the car’s weight, making it ineligible for participation in the Wales Rally GB. The second retirement was for a more conventional reason. The brand new Ford Focus 2006WRC’s alternator developed a technical snag and forced Toni to retire from the race.
2006 went by with Toni being part of a Mitsubishi team that was busy in trying to resolve their own internal problems and issues, than concentrate on winning races. This was just the start to an even more dismal 2007 where he was forced to enter non-championship events to maintain his skills.Things, though, have become better for the Finn as he’s been invited by the Suzuki Rally team for the 2008 season.