Australia's brightest rally star Chris Atkinson will join the Subaru World Rally Team for the 2005 season. The 25-year-old will contest the majority of the sixteen events that make up the FIA world championship series, starting with Rally Sweden in February.
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.
"With Chris, Petter and Stephane I believe we've got the most dynamic and exciting driver line-up of any WRC team," said team principal David 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."
The announcement comes at the end of a highly successful year for Atkinson, during which he was the dominant driver in the Australian Rally Championship, winning three of the six rounds. However his success wasn't limited to the Australian shores as he successfully defended his Asia Pacific Super 1600 title and showed exceptional pace on rounds of the world championship in New Zealand, Finland and Japan. In November, Atkinson finished his year on a high by winning the Group N category and finishing fifth overall on his first attempt at Rally Australia - the highest finish by a Group N entrant in the 17-year history of the event.
"It's a fantastic chance to take a big step forward with Subaru," said Atkinson. "And to do so with team-mates like Petter and Stephane makes it even more valuable. I've a huge amount to learn but with Stephane's history on asphalt, and Petter's all round experience you couldn't wish for better people to learn from. My aim has always been to reach beyond the national championships and to make it on the world stage. It's been extremely hard work but now I've got the chance. I guess I'm out to prove that an Australian can be fast in Australia and fast in the rest of the world too."
Subaru manufacturer principal, Toshiya Azuma said: "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. Chris is the first Australian driver to have secured such a comprehensive programme and I know he'll fit well in our team, which is made up of talented people from all around the world. 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."