Finland's Toni Gardemeister has signed a one-year contract to drive for Ford Motor Company in next season's FIA World Rally Championship. He will drive a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on all 16 rounds of the championship with the Blue Oval squad that finished second in the 2004 series.
Twenty-nine-year-old Gardemeister is highly experienced at world championship level, having started 70 rallies since his debut in his native Finland in 1996. He will be co-driven by fellow countryman Jakke Honkanen, who moves up to replace Gardemeister's career-long partner Paavo Lukander, who retired at the end of the 2004 season.
Gardemeister has driven for the official Seat and Skoda teams in the WRC, helping Seat win the Two-Litre World Championship for manufacturers. His best result is third on the Rally New Zealand in 1999, a remarkable result on his debut drive in a World Rally Car.
"Toni has earned his reputation as a quick and highly consistent driver," said team director Malcolm Wilson. "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 next Thursday in Sweden. He will spend a day familiarising himself with the Focus RS WRC before starting tyre testing with Michelin.
The 2005 championship will be the last for the current Focus RS WRC model. A new-generation Focus RS WRC is currently being developed by Wilson's M-Sport company, the team which operates Ford's rally programme, and will be introduced at the start of the 2006 championship.
Negotiations are still taking place to finalise Gardemeister's team-mate for 2005 and an announcement will be made when they have been completed.