Former 'works' WRC driver Toni Gardemeister has had a quiet year after Suzuki pulled the plug on its 'senior' World Rally programme back in December '08. Radio's Rob Wilkins caught up with the ex-Suzuki WRT man recently and spoke to about being on the sidelines, his plans for the future and more...
Toni, what are you hoping to do in 2010?

Toni Gardmeister:
We don't know yet what will be the plan for 2010. But we will try to get a seat or some place to drive. Even this year I want to do some more events. We just don't know yet though. We are trying to work very hard. But next year I definitely want to be back at World Rally Championship level or in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge or something like this.
I know it is always difficult to say, but what do you think your old team could have achieved in 2009 with the Suzuki SX4 WRC?

Like you said it is a little bit difficult to say what they could have achieved. However if they did some testing - because we didn't do almost any testing in 2008 - and if there was good planning, I think the car would have been much faster. We would have been able to get regular top-six finishes in the rallies.
You have had a quiet year, but you did take in the Rallye Monte Carlo with a Fiat Abarth Grande Punto S2000. What was that like?

Monte Carlo was nice like always. I like the rally. Okay we had a lot of technical problems during the event and we lost some time because of that. But at least we showed that the speed was quite good and we were lying in second place overall before we retired just a few stages from the end [Toni retired in SS12, with only two more tests to go - Ed].
What do you think of the IRC and is that something that interests you?

I like the IRC and the concept. I like the Super 2000 cars because they are interesting to drive and they are like the old rally cars. You can push the car to the limit and they are a bit 'raw'. The IRC is good as well because there are more cars at the moment than at WRC level. We will have to see what happens in the future now when the new regulations come in for the World Rally Championship.
You also made the trip to Mexico for the Rally of Nations event in July, one of a number of former WRC stars in action. Did you enjoy that?

It was fun there and I saw a lot of friends. A lot of drivers that I know were competing and there was good competition. Also for us it was quite a decent event because we were in a very good position before we got a problem. It was a pity that we retired so early. But at least we set some competitive stage times. [Overall] the Rally of Nations was a good thing, a good concept what with two drivers in a team and then scoring points for their country. It was a little bit like in athletics.
Have you got any other outings lined up for this year?

We have some discussions going on for some events. But we will have to see what comes of them.
Looking at the 2009 World Rally Championship, what have you made of the series this season and the performance of fellow Finn's Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala?

Mikko has done a very good job this year, especially in Finland. I was there as a spectator and he was very aggressive and pushing to the limit. It looks good.

Jari-Matti has had a really difficult year with a lot of mistakes - and he and the team have lost a lot of points as a result. That is not so good. But at least he has done some good stage times and taken one overall win. That is really promising. Hopefully he will get his consistency and confidence back now.
Do you think Mikko can stop Sebastien Loeb and take the 2009 WRC drivers' title?

I think so. But the next event in Australia is very crucial and who finishes first there I think will win the championship.
What do make of plans for the WRC for 2010 and beyond and the direction the sport is going in?

Hopefully it will go in a better way now. There are only a few teams at the moment. But I think the future is quite promising. Maybe not next year, but in 2011 and 2012, there will possibly be more teams because the cars will be a little bit cheaper than now. Maybe there will be even more private teams too, which will bring more competition for the championship.
One of the proposals put forward by the WMSC back in June, included a major overhaul of the SupeRally. Do you think this is a step in the right direction or would you rather the SupeRally was abolished altogether?

It is better for the spectators that there are always cars going round. But I am not sure how it will work with this new points system in the future. I cannot say if it is better or worse.
What are your thoughts on the WRC schedule for 2010?

It is a pity that there is no Monte Carlo. In any good championship you need the Monte because it is legendary. Everybody knows about it and everybody follows it. But when there are a little bit less than 16 or 15 events, when there are 12 or 13, it is better for the teams and hopefully that will bring more in there.
Final question, returning to yourself, how difficult has it been being on the sidelines and when might you be in a position to announce something for this year or 2010?

It is really, really difficult being at home and just watching the rallies and following the guys there. Always I like to be in the car and I really want to be there a lot. We are trying to work - and actually we are working quite hard - to get some drives for next year, and even for this year. I think we need to concentrate even a little bit more to get something.