Up and coming Finnish rally star Toni Gardemeister has left Skoda and recently became the first of Ford's WRC drivers to be confirmed for 2005. But who will be his team-mate next year?

Up and coming Finnish rally star Toni Gardemeister has left Skoda and recently became the first of Ford's WRC drivers to be confirmed for 2005. But who will be his team-mate next year?


Gardemeister had been strongly linked with a move to Ford in recent weeks after impressing Skoda and SEAT over the last few years. The 29-year-old has secured a one-year deal with Ford to run on all 16 rallies on next year’s WRC schedule and his co-driver will be Jakke Honkanen, who replaces Gardemeister’s regular co-driver, Paavo Lukander, who retires at the end of this year.


“Toni has earned a reputation as a quick and consistent driver,” said Ford team boss 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.”


Ford is still weighing up its options for the second seat, as Francois Duval has signed a deal to join Citroën for 2005 and Markko Martin is expected to move to Peugeot. A number of drivers, including Spaniard Daniel Sola and Finn Janne Tuohino have been linked with the drive.


Meanwhile, 1995 world champion Colin McRae said that his only chance of making a comeback to the World Rally Championship in 2005 would be with Ford.


McRae’s chances of joining Skoda floundered after talks with the Czech team came to an end. Ford has recently announced a four-year commitment to the WRC, and a return to the team for a well-known name such as McRae - who drove for Ford between 1998 and 2002 - would have significant publicity advantages.


Ford is known to be looking for at least one driver with budget, however, and is likely to also favour developing younger driving talent as it works its way to building a title-winning package with the new-look Focus in 2006 and beyond.


“Maybe there’s something we could do at Ford,” McRae told . “We’re still talking to people, but nothing is straightforward. The deals are quite complicated. Money has to be found. It’s not like we’re talking about a simple driving deal. There area a few younger drivers around with money, but it’s up to the teams to decide if they want to take a chance with that or if they want a driver who can perform and who has a profile.”


McRae and multiple South African champion Giniel de Villiers are scheduled to compete in January’s Dakar Rally with Nissan.