Chris Atkinson Heads To World Rally Championship
Australian rally sensation Chris Atkinson has been recognised as a true international talent after being offered a drive with the Subaru World Rally Team for the 2005 World Rally Championship.
Bigger than Formula 1 in many parts of the world, the WRC consists of 16 rounds on four continents and has a global television audience of more 918 million.
Atkinson was named as part of the SWRT simultaneously in Brisbane and Europe this afternoon and will head to England to begin testing on December 30.
Alongside the Subaru team's other drivers, Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin, Atkinson will be looking to build on his impressive Group N and Super 1600 credentials and rise to the challenge of top-level rallying.
Believed by many to be as significant as Mark Webber's entry into Formula 1, the employment of Atkinson by Subaru in the WRC is expected to have massive benefits for Australian rallying and motor sport in general.
Atkinson is the first Australian to become a full-time WRC driver and the first to contest any campaign since Michael Guest in 2000 who did three events in the now defunct F2 class and three (China, San Remo and Australia) in a Hyundai Accent WRC car.
Atkinson is regarded by many as a "natural" and the calm and level-headed Queenslander certainly turned plenty of heads when he won Group N and finished fifth outright in Telstra Rally Australia in West Australia last month.
It was that performance which sparked enormous interest from several international teams, but in the end Atkinson is pleased that he will be able to continue his successful relationship with Subaru.
"There is no doubt that this is a dream come true," said Atkinson, who lives on Queensland's Gold Coast.
"A lot of people have been working extremely hard to make this happen for a long time.
"The WRC is the pinnacle of rallying and now I have my chance, I need to ensure I make the most of it.
"I am delighted that I can continue my career with Subaru and be a representative of the company both here and overseas.
"Special thanks must go to Nick Senior and his team at Subaru Australia who have a passion for this sport and who have taken a strong interest in my career."
Atkinson will be joined by his now regular co-driver West Australian Glenn Macneall, who replaced Atkinson's brother Ben last month.
SWRT principal David Lapworth is delighted to welcome Atkinson on board and believes he now has the combination to help Subaru to another WRC title.
"With Chris, Petter and Stephane I believe we've got the most dynamic and exciting driver line-up of any WRC team," said Lapworth.
"I've been most impressed with what Chris has achieved this year. I believe his performance in Australia, where he set fastest stage times and beat drivers with far more experience, is a strong indication of his potential. Now Chris has a great opportunity to show us what he can do.
"Chris and Stephane make a very balanced pairing. Chris has demonstrated his impressive pace on gravel but hasn't yet had the opportunity to show what he can do on tarmac, while for Stephane the opposite is true.
"I'm confident though that both drivers have what it takes to be competitive across the board. Of course it's a high-risk strategy, but it's a fundamental part of Subaru's driver development philosophy. Our objective is to find another Subaru world champion and we'll do all we can to help Chris and Stephane reach that goal."
Subaru manufacturer principal, Toshiya Azuma, was also happy to keep Atkinson part of the Subaru family.
"I'm very happy to welcome Chris to our team. In common with Stephane, Chris chose to start his rally career with the Impreza, and after such a successful 2004 it's great to be able to reward his efforts by giving him the opportunity to drive with us," said Azuma.
"I believe we have an excellent driver line-up for next year, one that combines Petter's World Champion experience, with the very best in fresh talent. It's going to be a very exciting season."
While Subaru have three cars entered in the world championship only two of those cars can be nominated for WRC points on an event-by-event basis.
Atkinson is likely miss the opening round of the championship in Monte Carlo in favour of some gravel testing before competing in round two of the WRC in Sweden on February 10-13.