Atkinson Rises To The Top in Telstra Rally Australia
In his first attempt at Australia's round of the World Rally Championship, Telstra Rally Australia, Queensland's Chris Atkinson has overcome adversity to win the Group N category and finish an amazing fifth outright in Perth today.
Atkinson's victory was the first with his new West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall and the highest overall finish by an Australian since Ross Dunkerton's fourth place in 1992. It was also the highest finish by a Group N entrant in the 17-year history of the event.
Atkinson's Group N victory adds the Super 1600 win from Rally Japan making it two class wins in only four starts in the World Rally Championship.
Throughout the weekend 24-year-old Atkinson showed the true determination to claim the Group N victory aboard his Prodrive-built Subaru WRC Sti. After overcoming electrical problems early on the opening day Atkinson battled with a broken gear stick and driving on a flat tyre for 13-kilometres yesterday shortly after taking over the lead in Group N.
Further drama hit Atkinson today running the final five stages with a gearbox problem causing the car to "jump" out of fifth gear during the high speed stages. While the crew attempted to correct the gearbox problem they encountered further problems that left Atkinson with no clutch for two stages.
"I had no clutch at all, for the start of the stages and at stop lights for to the stages for that matter, I had to put the car in gear then turn the key and start the car," said Atkinson.
"It certainly made life interesting but I wasn't going to give up easily."
Despite his problems Atkinson went on to record another fastest stage time and regain the lead in Group N while moving up the order to fifth outright. This stage win made it a total of nine from the 25 held in the event, an amazing six more than any other driver.
With two stages remaining Atkinson had built a slender lead in Group N and when his nearest rival Dean Herridge endured an engine problem the victory was in sight.
Atkinson went on to claim the Group N victory by 40 seconds ahead of Spanish driver Xavier Pons and fellow Australian Cody Crocker.
"It is a pretty crazy feeling to come here for the first time and win Group N along with finish fifth outright, I could never imagined this could happen especially considering everything that was thrown at me over the weekend," said Atkinson.
"While it's not the Australian Championship it certainly makes up for narrowly missing out on that.
"It is a very important result for me and at an important time in my career, now it is time to work on finalizing our plans for next year. It's no secret I want to take the next step in my career to the full Production World Championship."
Newly crowned World Champion Sebastien Loeb took the outright honours over Harri Rovanpera and Francois Duval.