Ford signs Gardemeister

Toni Gardemeister gets a chance to prove just how good he is after signing a deal to drive for Ford in the 2005 World Rally Championship. The Blue Oval is still looking for a second driver

Ford signs Gardemeister

Gardemeister moves from Skoda, which he has driven for over the past three years and gets the chance to drive a car with a proven winning pedigree for the first time.

The pressure is on to impress from the word go as the recent decision by Peugeot and Citroen to withdraw from the sport in 2006 will make drivers like Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm available and Gardemeister's contract is just for one year. Ford will also introduce a new car for 2006 - based on the next generation of Focus.

The 29-year-old Finn not only gets a different car to drive for 2005 but also a new co-driver. Paavo Lukander, who has sat beside Gardemeister through most of his career retired at the end of the pair's 2004 campaign and he is replace by another Finn - Jakke Honkanen.

Ford rally team director Malcolm Wilson commented: "Toni has earned his reputation as a quick and highly consistent driver. He served a thorough world championship apprenticeship in the two-wheel drive, two-litre category before moving up to his first full programme in a World Rally Car in 2000. He is now ready to make the step up to a frontline team and I'm confident he will do a superb job for us next season.

"Toni has considerable experience of virtually all the WRC events and his ability behind the wheel will make the transition to a Focus RS WRC a smooth one," added Wilson.

Gardemeister will begin testing the Focus RS WRC next Thursday in Sweden. He will spend a day familiarising himself with the car before starting tyre testing with Michelin.

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