by Rob Wilkins

Toni Gardemeister may have only competed in two WRC events this season, but despite having had to sit out six of the eight events that made up the first half of the year, he has managed to score 11 points and is joint seventh in the drivers' championship.

Here the former Ford works driver speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about his outings on the Rallye Monte Carlo and in Greece with Astra Racing - and looks ahead to his next event, coming up in August in Germany...

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Q:
Toni, in the two events you have done this year in the WRC you have had two fantastic results. Let's start with the Rallye Monte Carlo back in January - third on your debut with the Peugeot 307. You must have been pleased with that?

Toni Gardemeister:
Yeah I was quite happy for the result there. The car was new for me and just before the rally I was driving only about 70 kilometres just to get some feeling for the car. I was very happy with the car in total. It felt good all the time and for me it was easy to handle and very powerful and no problems at all on the rally. We don't have any problems and it felt good.

Q:
You were then originally due to compete in Spain and Corsica with the 307. What went wrong with that plan?

TG:
Actually I am not 100 per cent sure what happened but we had planned to go and do at least these two events. But there was some problems between us [Astra Racing] and Peugeot. The outcome was they had some kind of deal to buy two or three Peugeots from Peugeot Sport and somehow Peugeot sold all the cars-out before Astra got the cars. And then we didn't have any cars to drive.

Q:
Most recently, you did the Acropolis Rally with the Astra-run Citroen Xsara WRC and you finished in fourth place - another good result on your debut with a new car. Were you happy with your performance?

TG:
In the end I was happy with the fourth place. But at the start I was not so happy. I was not on the pace. I think I was pushing too much on the first two days. I was too fast into the corners and lost time with that and it felt a bit difficult. But then on the last day I found the way to drive the car and I was quite happy with the times. I was easily in the top three on the stage times on the final day and that was good. Also I was quite happy with the result overall because I was drove only 50 kilometres before the rally with the car and also it was a completely new car for me before the event. That makes the result quite OK.

Q:
The next event you are going to do is the Rallye Deutschland. How do you think you can do there?

TG:
I try to be in the top three for sure there but we will see how it goes. I will test before and at the test I will try to drive more and push a bit more than at the other tests before these two other rallies. I am quite happy to drive in Germany because I have normally got good stages times, never good results as we have always had problems but my stages times have been good in the past there.

Q:
You mentioned testing - is it just a one-day test?

TG:
Yeah at the moment it is only a one-day test planned. It is always quite difficult to start to drive rallies with new cars if you have never used it before and if you don't drive many days like other teams and drivers in the WRC. Manufacturer-backed teams, they are testing all the time and they do a lot of kilometres before the rally and it helps to start an event having done that. But at least we can drive something before the event.

Q:
What will you do after Germany - there is some talk you might do Turkey or Cyprus is that correct?

TG:
At the moment Germany is for sure. We will look after Germany what will we do. The other ones are not sure. But beyond we are thinking a bit about those events like you say.

Q:
How difficult has it been to have to sit on the sidelines for quite a few of the events after having been with Ford in 2005?

TG:
It is not so nice to drive only a few events at the moment because you know I was quite happy with the result for 2005. We were fourth in the drivers' championship and I did a full season with Ford. This year in the WRC it is quite different and there are not so many cars to drive. For sure it is a bit frustrating to drive on only a few events.

Q:
Ford of course have done quite well this season and the new Focus looks good. Is it tough not to be a part of that, especially in light of the fact you would have done some of the ground work with it?

TG:
I was sure already at the end of last season that the new Focus would be a very good car because it was already very good in Australia without any testing. We set some good stage times there and the car felt very good for me on that rally. I was convinced the car would be very good this year and OK it is a bit hard to watch when they drive but that is life. We will try to get good results this year with Astra and then try to be back next year in the championship more full-time.

Q:
Can you tell us anything more about your plans for 2007?

TG:
We will try to get something for next year. But also it will be difficult to get something because there are not so many new teams coming - only Suzuki is completely new and OK, Citroen is coming back with an official team. But we will try to do something like everybody else also, I think.