In its bid to strengthen its position in the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart has signed two additional drivers to compete in three forthcoming WRC events.

Japanese-born Katsuhiko Taguchi, 1999 Asia-Pacific Rally Champion, will compete alongside Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix in a third factory-supported Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on the Rally of Cyprus in June. And, in both the rallies of Finland and New Zealand, 26-year-old Toni Gardemeister (pictured) will make his debut with Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart to assist in its bid for success in the all-important manufacturers' championship.

In the team's first all-Finnish line-up, both he and four-times World Champion Tommi Makinen will be nominated in the Rally of Finland, allowing Freddy Loix to fight for drivers' points while fulfilling a vital and tactical supporting role for the team attack.

"We are beginning to see Japanese drivers coming through the ranks and hopefully Katsuhiko will learn a lot from the team and its drivers as he takes a bigger step into the World Championship," commented Chairman of Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart Andrew Cowan. "We are also delighted to welcome Toni into the team for two very fast and specialised events. 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."

"I am extremely grateful to Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart who has fulfilled my dream of driving a works car and given me this opportunity to challenge the Rally of Cyprus," said Katsuhiko. "Although I have limited World Championship knowledge, I hope to utilise my experience as Drivers' Champion on the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship as a step towards my next career goal. My intention is to fulfil the hopes of all the people who have supported me through the years. I'm really looking forward to this challenge."

Katsuhiko will be co-driven by 1995 World Champion co-driver Briton Derek Ringer.

Flying Finn Toni Gardemeister will also be making his debut with Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart this season, the young hotshot providing invaluable support as Mitsubishi makes its assault on the important manufacturers' title. He joined by regular co-drive Paavo Lukander.

"I am very very happy about this," commented Toni. "I think the car is one of the most competitive in the series at the moment, especially if you look at Tommi's form. Hopefully I will have the chance for a good test beforehand and if the car is as good as it seems, 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. I have only competed in two events so far this season, but hopefully this will also give me the chance to show people I can get good results."

So characteristic of the FIA World Rally Championship, each of these three events has its own unique flavour. The Rally of Cyprus (1-3 June), which is only in its second year at World Championship level, is hot, dry, tight and twisty, while Rally Finland (24-25 August) is one of the fastest events in the series. Blind corners and spectacular jumps are a real test of skill, local knowledge in the spiritual home of rallying is of paramount importance and only two non-Nordic drivers have won there in the past. Rally New Zealand (21-23 September) is also a fast gravel event and is regarded by most rally drivers as having the best roads in the world.