Gardemeister joins Mitsubishi for Finland and NZ

Mitsubishi will 'triple-up' on three upcoming World Rally Championship rounds, with Finnish rising star Toni Gardemeister drafted in for Finland and New Zealand and 1999 Asia-Pacific Champion Katsuhiko Taguchi joining the squad for Cyprus later this month

Gardemeister joins Mitsubishi for Finland and NZ

Taguchi's outing appears designed to give him experience of a new event, but Gardemeister - whose only WRC podium came in New Zealand in 1999 - will play a more crucial role on his two outings. The 26-year-old will be nominated for manufacturers' points alongside championship-leader Tommi Makinen, allowing regular driver Freddy Loix to concentrate on gaining drivers' points only on the two specialist rallies.

Loix is acknowledged as an asphalt expert, but the high-speed, loose surfaces of Finland and New Zealand are more suited to Gardemeister's strengths as Mitsubishi attempts to land a makes' and drivers' title double.

"We are delighted to welcome Toni into the team for two very fast and specialised events," said Mitsubishi Ralliart team boss Andrew Cowan. "His experience, certainly on home territory, will be invaluable to the team effort and we're obviously hoping he can put more points on the board for us.

"We're delighted with the way Freddy has risen to the challenge this year and this is no reflection on his performance. Finland, in particular, is a very specialised event and he understands that our job is to give Mitsubishi the best possible chance for victory."

Gardemeister added: "Hopefully I will have the chance of a good test beforehand and if the car is as good as it seems, then in Finland in particular, I feel sure I can get points for the team and also maybe try to help Tommi win the world championship again."

Gardemeister has competed in two 2001 WRC events so far, notching up a fifth on the Monte Carlo Rally and a fourth in Sweden with the privateer Grifone Peugeot squad.

Taguchi has limited experience of world championship rallying, but the Japanese driver will have 1995 WRC champion co-driver Derek Ringer alongside him in Cyprus.

Cowan has hinted that additional Lancers could appear later in the year.

"When it gets to the later asphalt rounds," he said, "we wouldn't rule out using an extra car but by then, we're obviously talking about the new World Rally Car model so availability becomes an issue. It would have to be an act of desperation by then."

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