When autumn comes, it’s a lot of fun to remember things that happened in the summer. Samsonas Rally Rokiškis was a good affair in the northern part of Lithuania. Samsonas name and quality of the rally attract very interesting participants. Some are doing better, others – worse. And what happened in early August? Fastest Lithuanian driver Vaidotas Žala with his Škoda Fabia R5 left no chances for others in Rokiškis region roads. But with this article, we will not tell a great Lithuanian rally epic, but rather honor a rare guest on the stages, but a very active person in a rally world. And past years only Lithuanians have the opportunity to see the legend flying on their country’s roads. Since 2012, Toni Gardemeister has only one official competition a year. He visited Latvia, Estonia, even the Barbados Rally described earlier. Well, for the last two years the Finn has been playing Lithuanian gravel roads with the BMW M3.
Toni grew up in a family that had more than one or two sports cars in the yard and took the first title in 1997, winning the Finnish Rally Championship with Nissan Sunny. But there was a minority of home rallies in his calendar. He visited many events in Italy, and 1998 he traveled across Europe following the European Rally Championship calendar behind the wheel of the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. The change to the Seat Ibiza at the end of the year marked the beginning of the Finnish journey to WRC. Toni did quite well and in 1999 was given the opportunity to take part in the WRC New Zealand Rally with Seat Cordoba WRC. Surprisingly, the yellow Seat with the Finnish flags on the glass finished in third place and the sixth result in the Rally Finland guaranteed Gardemeister a place on the Seat team for the 2000 season, which was not very successful due to the many technical problems with the car. With the withdrawal of Seat from the World Rally Championship, the Finn continued his presence on the world stage with several private teams. Then he was spotted by Škoda, with whom Toni spent three years driving the Octavia and Fabia WRC. In a recent interview, Toni stated that the Octavia WRC was his favorite WRC car, despite the fact that the model lacked speed. And at the moment, he is working very closely with Škoda.
2004 was the best year for Gardemeister in terms of results. With Ford Focus ’04 WRC he won four podiums and finished fourth in the World Rally Championship. Unfortunately, this excellent performance did not give him a place for next season with Ford, so several years passed with private teams in the WRC before Toni received an invitation from Suzuki. 2008 was not an easy year for Suzuki, and eventually, Suzuki ended its WRC program after its debut season. So again, for several years, Toni has gone on various events in Europe with various cars and teams.
Then the fast Finn bought the car (Škoda Fabia S2000) himself and founded his own team – TGS. He was quite successful in the IRC Championship, missing only a few events. But it was Gerdemeister’s last full season behind the wheel, although plans were different. In the last second of the 2012 season, Toni’s main sponsor Hankook broke off support, so Toni had to do things differently. So in 2012, he started renting cars for other pilots, the established team expanded and grew to a very strong player in the rally world with names like Kalle Rovampera, Teemu Suninen, Eerik Pietarinen. Toni himself also works as a mentor, and his lessons have been learned by the same drivers, plus Jari-Matti Latvala himself. The TGS team works exclusively with Škoda and was the first to receive the newly released Škoda Fabia R5 Evo.
By the way, Toni was participating in a Rally Raid. At the 2012 Talsi Rally in Latvia, Finn appeared with the legendary Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. An unforgettable view, with both a large and tall jeep flying the Latvian roads like Mitsubishi Evo’s or Subaru Impreza’s. But later in a Rally Raid, he suffered a very serious accident and was severely injured. I’m glad that Toni was completely repaired by the medical staff and he continues to sit in the car, cheering us on with his rare, but amazing drives.
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Photo – Tony Gardemeister FB