Toni Gardemeister is a Finnish former rally driver who competed in 112 races of the World Rally Championship between 1996 and 2010 and scored six podiums, without victories. He was a member of five factory teams (Seat, Mitsubishi, Škoda, Ford and Suzuki) and the best result in his career was fourth place in the 2005 WRC season.
Toni Gardemeister was born in March 1975 in Valkeala, Finland. His father was also a rally driver and young Toni had racing in his blood. He got his first karting when he was four years old. Toni raced with karts but realized that he wasn't very interested in racing around the circles. After he tried his father's Ford Escort RS 2000 he felt in love with rallying. At the age of 12, he was already faster than his father.
Opel Ascona was Gardemeister's first rally car
In 1993, after he got a driver license, Toni started rallying. His first rally car was Opel Ascona and he won at Kouvola Rally, alongside co-driver Rolf Hedman. Toni continued to race with Opel Ascona in 1994 and scored few more wins in the junior category. At the end of 1994, Paavo Lukander became Toni's co-driver. It was the beginning of a partnership that lasted until 2004 season.
In the following two years, Toni competed only in Finland, collecting victories with Opel Ascona. In August 1996, Toni debuted in the World Rally Championship, competing with Opel Astra GSi 16V at Neste 1000 Lakes Rally Finland. He retired because of mechanical issues. His first international event followed in November 1996, at Network Q RAC Rally in Great Britain. Gardemeister and Lukander competed with Nissan Sunny GTi and finished 16th overall.
1997 Finnish rally champion with Nissan
Nissan Sunny GTi was Toni's victorious car in the Group A of the 1997 Finnish Rally Championship. On the international scene, he competed with Nissan at two events of the World Rally Championship (Swedish Rally and Rally Finland). Toni expanded his racing program to four races of the Italian Trofeo Rally Terra, competing with legendary Lancia Delta HF Integrale.
Two seasons of limited appearances with Seat
In 1998, Toni started the season driving Nissan Sunny GTi at the Swedish Rally. He then switched to Lancia Delta HF Integrale and competed in four races of the European Rally Championship, with fourth place in Poland as the best result. In August, he was promoted to Seat Sport factory team and participated in five WRC races with Seat Ibiza GTi 16V Evo2, but without notable results.
In 1999, Toni again competed with Seat in the World Rally Championship. He started with his own Seat Ibiza in Monte-Carlo, drove Astra Racing's Ibiza in Sweden and Portugal and finally debuted with factory-entered Seat Cordoba WRC at Rally New Zealand. Toni's debut with the latest generation WRC machine was impressive, he reached third place behind two fellow Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen.
Toni participated in four more WRC events in 1999 and finished the season in 13th place. During 1999, Gardemeister also competed in the British Rally Championship, driving Seat Ibiza at six races and scoring two podiums.
First job as a full-time factory driver in 2000 with Seat
In 2000, Toni finally got a job as a full-time factory driver. He joined Seat Sport as a teammate to Didier Auriol. Toni's #8 Seat Cordoba WRC Evo2 scored season-best result at Rallye Monte-Carlo, where he finished fourth. He recorded nine retirements in 14 rallies and finished 13th in the championship standings.
Seat withdrew from the world championship and Toni continued to drive as a privateer in 2001. He entered Rallye Monte-Carlo and Swedish Rally with his own Peugeot 206 WRC and scored 5th and 4th place respectively. In the second part of the season, Toni had a chance to drive Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart's Carisma GT at Rally Finland and Rally New Zealand.
Three seasons with Škoda Motorsport
For 2002, Toni was hired by Škoda Motorsport and he drove two evolutions of the Škoda Octavia WRC in 14 races. His best result was fifth place at Rally Argentina. In 2003, Toni was more successful with the old Octavia than with a new Fabia WRC. His best result again was fifth place, at Rally New Zealand. In 2004, Škoda Motorsport missed first five events of the season. Toni competed in seven rallies with Fabia WRC and seventh place in Germany was his best result.
Four WRC podiums in the best season ever
Gardemeister's best WRC season followed in 2005. He was driving Ford Focus WRC for the BP Ford World Rally Team, alongside his new co-driver Jakke Honkanen. They scored four podiums driving for Ford's factory team, with three second places at Monaco, Greece and Corsica and third place in Sweden. Gardemeister finished fourth in the championship standings, which remained the best result in his career.
Last career podium at Rallye Monte-Carlo
Despite good results he lost his place in Ford's team for 2006, because two other Finns were hired – Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen. Gardemeister again competed as a privateer, driving Astra Racing's Peugeot 307 WRC at Rallye Monte-Carlo and Citroen Xsara WRC in three more events. He scored his last WRC podium in his career, with third place in Monte-Carlo. He also won points in Greece, Germany and Cyprus to finish 9th in the standings with just four races.
In 2007, Gardemeister participated in five WRC events, driving Mitsubishi Lancer WRC 05 for MMSP team or Astra Racing. He reached sixth places in Sweden and Italy.
Stage win in Japan with Suzuki SX4
In 2008, Toni was chosen to represent Suzuki World Rally team in the World Championship. His new co-driver was Tomi Tuominen and they competed with Suzuki SX4 WRC. The Japanese team wasn't so competitive but Gardemeister succeeded to score the one and only stage win for Suzuki at their home event Rally Japan.
He finished that rally in sixth place, which was his best season result. With three more seventh places and 8th place in Finland, Gardemeister collected 10 points and finished 13th in the final standings.
Last WRC event in his home country
Suzuki withdrew from WRC in 2009 and Toni again lost his job. After that, he drove occasionally, mostly with Astra Racing and his own team TGS Worldwide. In 2010, he participated in his last WRC event, finishing 12th at the Rally Finland with Ford Fiesta S2000.
His busiest season was 2011, when he participated in eight rallies of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, driving Škoda Fabia S2000. His best result was sixth place at the Barum Czech Rally Zlin and he finished 9th in the final classification.
For rally driving lessons or racing car rental - call TGS
Although he never reached the top in the world rallying, Gardemeister's long experience made him one of the most known and most respected Finnish rally drivers during 2000s. He decided to transfer all that experience and knowledge to the younger generations of rally drivers, both professionals and amateurs. His company TGS Worldwide are running the Driving Academy and renting cars for rallying.