Buying a Rally Car In 7 Steps

Buying a Rally Car In 7 Steps

Lifestyle Sports

Buying a car is always an exciting and emotional experience. Now imagine how thrilling it must be to buy a rally car worth millions of crowns! Toni Gardemeister, former ŠKODA Motorsport driver and owner of the TGS private rally team, will guide you through the unusual purchase of the first ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo to be supplied to a customer team.

15. 8. 2019

How does it feel to be handed the keys to a ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo, a rally car of which there are currently fewer than ten examples worldwide? First of all, you don’t get any keys. It’s rarely necessary to lock the car and starting it is different from an ordinary car – you turn on the power and ignition levers, press the start button, and wait until the oil in the engine is at the right pressure. What you do get, though, is the acceleration of a super sports car whatever the surface, a car that’s almost indestructible, and customer care that would make clients of the most luxurious brands envious. And the differences go much deeper than that.

Before this year’s Rally Finland, Toni Gardemeister became the world’s first private customer of the modernised ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo. “When I’m buying a new rally car, the feelings inside me are much stronger than with a regular road car. I really love these cars. As soon as ŠKODA announced that the FABIA R5 evo was being developed, I called them to place a reservation on one or two cars,” enthuses Gardemeister, who has rallied with cars such as the OCTAVIA WRC, the FABIA WRC and the FABIA S2000 in the past. However, the joy from his new car didn’t last for very long – as you’ll see in the video, the world of rallying can be very unforgiving:

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Toni Gardemeister
former ŠKODA Motorsport driver and owner of the TGS private rally team

A little under 280 of the previous-generation FABIA R5 were sold over four years of production. In the world of motorsport, that’s a very respectable number – in fact, the ŠKODA FABIA R5 became the bestseller in its class. Taking delivery of such a car is an exceptional moment for anyone. There are also a lot of differences from buying a “civilian” car. The whole purchasing process can be divided into the seven steps described below.

7 steps towards a new rally car

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Step 1: Test drive

For most drivers, the test drive is the most important part of the decision-making process when buying a new car. However, you can’t really test drive a rally car – you choose one based on its reputation and performance in rallies. An exception was made for the FABIA R5 evo, which was presented to a select group of customers, allowing them to give it a spin on a racing circuit. This was one of those times when the dealer warning “please drive carefully” would have been out of place! They could test-drive the car absolutely flat out by flooring it and drifting. Truth be told, though, those customers had ordered their cars first and were only getting to test-drive them later.

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Step 2: Placing an order

There is only one place in the whole world where you can buy the ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo – at the ŠKODA Motorsport headquarters in Mladá Boleslav, about an hour’s drive away from the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague. There is only one version available, built to either tarmac or gravel specifications. Despite a price tag equal to 20 ordinary ŠKODA FABIAs, it’s completely sold out for this year! And, of course, you pay in advance. Don’t count on any offers of “great financing” or a “bargain lease”.

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Step 3: Building the car

Each car is hand-built at the new ŠKODA Motorsport facilities and takes several weeks to complete. Based on the modified body of an ordinary ŠKODA FABIA, it is extensively reinforced and fitted with top-grade racing components supplied by renowned brands from around the world. Many important things, though, like the engines, are manufactured right here at ŠKODA. Each engine is thoroughly tested on a dynamometer to see if it complies with stringent performance requirements. The colour of the car depends on customers’ requirements; most choose white as this is the best base for racing livery.

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Step 4: Stress test

Every owner of a new car knows that, for the first 1,000 to 1,500 kilometres, you should not rev the engine to more than 60%. If you have a new rally car, however, that would mean several lost rallies. That’s why the new FABIA R5s are thoroughly tested under high pressure on the ŠKODA proving grounds before being handed over to the new owner. The tests include full acceleration on all gears up to the rev limiter and hard braking.

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Step 5: Handover

Only now is the car ready for its happy new owner, and is usually accompanied by a large shipment of spare parts. Even though the ŠKODA FABIA R5 is well-known for its reliability and durability, components such as bumpers and half-shafts are treated as consumables here.

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Step 6: Set-up

Another thing specific to rally cars is that they need different settings for each rally, especially when it comes to the suspension. ŠKODA Motorsport technicians recommend settings for various conditions to all owners, and stand ready to give advice on the spot if required. In the end, though, all drivers have to test and fine-tune the settings to suit their own preferences. You can’t just hop in and drive if you want to have a shot at victory.

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Step 7: First rally

A brand-new family car is usually a cherished treasure, but the FABIA R5 evo exists to push itself to the limit of its technical and physical abilities. Only after the first bumper is destroyed and the first set of tyres is worn out can the car be considered to be truly broken in. On the other hand, it receives much better care than most “garage queens”. It gets thoroughly cleaned after each race, and even the slightest wear or damage is repaired.

Who Toni Gardemeister is

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The Finnish rally driver drove for ŠKODA in the WRC between 2002 and 2004. By his own account, he has especially fond memories of the OCTAVIA WRC, in which he achieved many great results. “I really loved that car, even though it wasn’t the fastest. It was reliable and, most of all, I liked driving it. It may have been a little sluggish, but it suited me and we got along with each other. In the fast rallies, the OCTAVIA WRC was really great. I have especially great memories of the Rally Sweden in 2003. In the end, we finished eighth, but we fought Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and other drivers of that calibre. We beat some of them and we weren’t far behind the others. To this day, I really like the OCTAVIA WRC in tarmac settings,” says Gardemeister as he reminisces about his favourite rally car.

After his last full season in the WRC, 2008, he tried to find a way to continue rallying. In the end, he managed to find a sponsor. He spent the next season in the IRC series, and then he started wondering whether he could apply his experience to business. Gradually, he built the TGS Worldwide team around his FABIA S2000, and it started to grow fast. In 2015, Teemu Suninen, Kalle Rovanperä and many other drivers used his services. Gardemeister owns three rally cars himself and takes care of several others. “When I was selecting the first car for my team, the ŠKODA FABIA S2000 was the fastest, and very reliable to boot. And reliability is even more important than speed for a private team,” he adds.

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Toni Gardemeister, Rally Argentina 2002, ŠKODA OCTAVIA WRC
Recently, Toni Gardemeister’s team has been built on ŠKODA FABIA R5 rally cars, and now also on the revamped FABIA R5 evo. The premiere of the latest addition to the TGS fleet ended prematurely, though, when last year’s winner Eerik Pietarinen had to retire after a mishap. “Things like that happen in rallying and it’s normal. Rally cars are very durable, so we’ll fix the car soon and return to the rally stages”, says Gardemeister without the slightest hint of doubt.

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