Škoda Motorsport World Rally Team driver Toni Gardemeister has won the Inmarsat Star of the Rally Award for his performance on this year’s Rally Australia that the judges said: “Showed incredible skill and bravery.”
Rally Australia saw both Škoda Fabia WRCs complete the 24 stages to bring the new car its first finish on only its third WRC event. Toni finished 11th with team mate Didier Auriol one place behind. Toni set three top 10 times (including on the final stage) to add to the three he had already achieved with the Fabia WRC in Germany and Finland while Didier claimed four on this rally
The Inmarsat award was made by former WRC co-driver Nicky Grist who said: “Toni deserves this award because he has driven the Škoda Fabia WRC for 95% of the rally one-handed. To do that on one of the most difficult events of the year with its high speeds through narrow, slippery and twisty stages is clearly a stellar performance.”
Toni receives US$5000 to be donated to a charity of his choice. Toni broke his right wrist during an ice hockey match organised by his co-driver Paavo Lukander to raise money for the Kuovala Ice Hockey Club that helps Finns recover from drug addiction and get into a healthy sport. Appropriately, Toni has decided to donate the money to the same charity.
“I’m really surprised but happy to win this award,” he said. “I wasn’t sure that I would be able to even compete on this rally but I’m glad that I did and that the youngsters will benefit as a result.”
Despite his injury, Toni has driven a strong event to give the Fabia WRC its first finish. He was able to set top 10 times during the rally and today brought the car home in 11th place with 10th fastest on the final stage.
Despite overnight rain in Perth, today’s stages around North Bannister were dry this morning and it meant that the cleaning effect of the road surface was at its worst. The final two stages were run in wet conditions but this did not affect the overall places.
Toni said: “The two cars ahead of me were taking quite different lines to me and so I was getting no help at all from them in sweeping away the loose stones. I have had to take a wider line into some corners as my wrist injury means that I can’t turn in too sharply. It is a pity that I couldn’t drive completely the way that I would have liked as some of these stages have long sections that can be driven absolutely flat out.
“I have gained confidence in the car throughout this rally because we saw lots more evidence of its potential. I must work to get my wrist fit for the asphalt rallies but I am sure that we can start to get quicker now.”
Didier’s day got off to a bad start when the Fabia WRC suffered a hydraulic problem on the opening stage. Without the ability to use the automatic gearshift and clutch he had to revert to a manual setting for the gearchange and the differentials. He battled bravely through the second stage, losing a minute and a place to Toni.
Didier said: “The problem started 4kms into the first stage when I ran over a rock and damaged the oil cooler to the hydraulic system. This let the fluid out and I soon lost the use of the clutch and the automatic gearshift. The differentials were affected and so that also messed up the brake balance. I was quite relieved that we only had two stages before service and the problem could be fixed quite easily.
“I know exactly the suspension settings that will work for the asphalt rallies and so we will work hard to test these out in the next few weeks and the car should be fine for San Remo.”
Toni has now completed 815.39kms of special stages in the Škoda Fabia WRC while Didier has completed 501.14kms. This makes a total distance of 1316.53kms in competition over 82 special stages.
Škoda Motorsport Team manager Pavel Janeba summed up the result of Rally Australia: “I’m very happy to see both our cars at the finish of this difficult event because we have now gained a huge amount of useful information. However, I am not so pleased with our overall positions and we must prepare for the three asphalt rallies and try to make the car faster. We will assess both of our transmission options to see which works best and we will also work on engine development.”
The Škoda Motorsport Team now returns to Europe for the final four rounds of the World Rally Championship. October sees three asphalt rallies with the San Remo Rally preceding back to back events in Corsica and Spain at the end of the month.
Next WRC event: San Remo Rally (I), October 3-5