This is the highest number of drivers from any one single country, including the Czech Republic, to have driven for ŠKODA Motorsport in its modern incarnation since 1993. And in that time Finnish drivers have clinched titles in the WRC2, Super 2000 World Rally Championship (SWRC), Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) and twice in the European Rally Championship (ERC).
2002 - 2004
Toni Gardemeister was 27 years old when he first joined the ŠKODA Motorsport. He spent three seasons with the team between 2002 and 2004, all alongside Finnish co-driver Paavo Lukander.
He arrived with six Top 6 results at the World Rally Championship (WRC) events already under his belt, including a third-place finish at the 1999 Rally New Zealand.
His ŠKODA Motorsport debut came in an OCTAVIA WRC at the 2002 Rallye Monte Carlo, where he finished tenth overall. In Argentina and Australia, he scored his best results of the season, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. In 2003 Toni steered OCTAVIA WRC to his season-best finish of fifth overall at the Rally New Zealand. His best WRC result in his third and final season with ŠKODA works team was a seventh place at the Rallye Deutschland in a FABIA WRC, while he also took a victory at the Exide Rally in Finland, driving the same car.
After ending his WRC career in 2008, his relationship with ŠKODA was rekindled in 2011 when he drove a FABIA S2000 in the IRC for his own TGS Worldwide team. Since his retirement from driving, his team has continued to work with ŠKODA and ran the FABIA S2000 and the FABIA R5 with which Kalle Rovanperä won Latvian Rally Championship in 2016 and 2017.
2004 - 2005
Jani Paasonen and his Finnish co-driver Jani Vainikka drove a FABIA WRC for the ŠKODA Motorsport team in selected WRC rounds during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Paasonen made his name when he was crowned class champion in the 2000 Finnish Rally Championship, a year in which he also finished fourth in the Production Car World Rally Championship (PWRC), and in 2004 he won both the Rally Sweden and Rally Argentina in the PWRC category.
In 2004, he was given the chance to drive the third works FABIA WRC and promptly beat both his teammates at the Rally Finland where he ended up sixth overall. He also drove the Wales Rally GB that year for ŠKODA Motorsport before returning in 2005 to make a strong start to the season, being the fastest ŠKODA driver at that year’s Rally Sweden, where he finished ninth overall. But three retirements in his other four events meant he struggled to build on that performance and his season highlight was a third-place finish at the International Pirelli Rally in Finland.
Janne Tuohino joined the ŠKODA Motorsport team as a 29-year-old and drove selected rounds of the 2005 WRC alongside Finnish co-driver Mikko Markkula. He made his name by being crowned Finnish Rally Champion in 2001 and followed that up by coming third in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) in 2002 and securing five top 7 results at WRC events in 2004.
In 2005, he finished ninth at the Cyprus Rally in a FABIA WRC for the ŠKODA Motorsport team and claimed another top 10 finish at the Rally Finland. But that was to be his last rally in a ŠKODA until 2018 season when he drove a private FABIA R5 for Toksport WRT to fifth in the WRC2 category at the Rally Sweden.
Mikko Hirvonen joined ŠKODA Motorsport just for a single rally, the 2005 Rally Japan. He made an impressive start and sat fourth before crashing out on special stage 7. This one event was far from the highlight of an impressive career. He was already a Finnish class champion in 2002 before driving for ŠKODA and he went on to be a four-time WRC runner-up (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012) and claimed fifteen WRC event victories.
2009 - 2012
Juho Hänninen was a ŠKODA Motorsport driver for four years between 2009 and 2012, during which time he drove a FABIA S2000 alongside compatriot Mikko Markkula. Hänninen was 27 years old when he joined ŠKODA works team and arrived as a Finnish class champion in 2004, Finnish Group N runner-up in 2005 and 2006, the PWRC runner-up in 2008 and an IRC event winner (Rally Russia 2008).
His first ŠKODA Motorsport event was the 2009 Rally Monte Carlo which saw the first competitive appearance of the FABIA S2000 too. Hänninen led the rally from SS2 to SS8 and in doing so became the first ever ŠKODA driver to hold the overall lead at this famous rally. He subsequently crashed out, but in 2009 he took his first event victory for ŠKODA at the Rally Russia in the IRC. There was also a third place finish at the Barum Czech Rally Zlín on his way to a sixth place in the IRC final standings. He also won at ŠKODA’s home rally, the Rally Bohemia.
In 2010, Hänninen and the FABIA S2000 excelled. Juho claimed three event wins (Rally Argentina, Rally d’Italia Sardegna and Rally of Scotland) and six more podium finishes on the way to becoming the IRC Champion. That year, he also won the SWRC category of the Rally Finland, where he also finished ninth overall, and again won the Rally Bohemia.
In 2011 and 2012, he won six more IRC rallies and in doing so became the most successful driver in the history of this series with a total of eleven wins to his name. In 2011 Hänninen also drove in the SWRC Championship for the Red Bull ŠKODA team, where victories at the Acropolis Rally, Rally Finland and Rally Catalunya as well as two more podium finishes saw him crowned SWRC Champion. There was another title for him in 2012 as four event wins (at the Croatia Rally, Ypres Rally, Bosphorus Rally and Barum Czech Rally Zlín) and another podium finish were enough to win the ERC.
2012 - 2016
Esapekka Lappi was just 21 years of age when he was given his chance with the ŠKODA Motorsport team at the 2012 Rally Poland. It was his first appearance in the ERC as well as first drive in a FABIA S2000 and he took overall victory alongside Finnish co-driver Janne Ferm. It was the start of a four-year relationship between them and the team.
Lappi had already made a name for himself winning the Finnish Rally Championship in 2012 in impressive fashion as he won every round he entered in what was just his third full season competing in the national series. His first full season at ŠKODA Motorsport in 2013 began with retirement at the Rally Monte Carlo, but just three months later he had his first WRC2 event win under his belt, as he steered a FABIA S2000 to victory at the Rally de Portugal. He was also competing in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (ARPC) that season where two event victories (International Rally of Queensland and Rally China Longyou) helped him to second position in the final championship standings. He took also his first overall wins on a tarmac at the Rally Agropa in the Czech Republic and at the Rallye International du Valais in Switzerland.
In 2014, Lappi focused on the ERC and the win at the Rally Liepāja on snow as well as the victories on tarmac at the Circuit of Ireland and the Rallye International du Valais were crucial for him to be crowned European Rally Champion. The following year saw the arrival of the FABIA R5 and Lappi was challenging in the WRC2 again. He took category victories at the Rally Poland and Rally Finland, as well as two more podium results on the way to fourth place in the final standings.
But in 2016, he was back and wins at the Rally Finland, Rallye Deutschland, Wales Rally GB and Rally Australia plus another two podium finishes saw him clinch the first WRC2 drivers’ title for ŠKODA Motorsport. After 2016, Lappi graduated to the WRC category, where he is now seen as one of the rallying rising stars and a big hope for the future.
The talented young Finn Juuso Nordgren made his name by winning the Finnish Junior Rally Champion 2015 and being named the 2016 Future Rally Star of Finland. He claimed two podium finishes in 2017 Finnish Rally Championship, in what were his first two drives in a 4WD car (a FABIA R5), he then also claimed four special stage victories in his debut at WRC2 level [KOTVU, PROSÍM] at the Rally Finland as well.
He made his debut for ŠKODA Motorsport at the Rally Catalunya aged just 21 years old, and also drove the 2017 Wales Rally GB, finishing in the Top 5 of the WRC2 standings at both events. These impressive drives led to him joining ŠKODA Motorsport fulltime for the 2018 season alongside Finnish co-driver Tapio Suominen.
While Juuso Nordgren is young, at just 17-years of age Kalle Rovanperä is even younger. But he is no novice, with two Latvian Rally Championship titles already to his name. He is seen as a potential future star of the World Rally Championship and hopefully, he can follow in the footsteps of many of the flying Finns those were driving for ŠKODA Motorsport before him. Perhaps he can even overshadow their achievements!