ATKINSON LEADS BEFORE HEARTACHE AT RALLY AUSTRALIA
Australian Chris Atkinson began the final round of the World Rally Championship, Telstra Rally Australia in Western Australia, in amazing fashion to lead the way before succumbing to a mechanical problem mid way through the day which dropped him just outside the top ten.
The Gold Coaster and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall began today's forest stages in a similar fashion to where they left off last year, when they finished fifth outright aboard a Group N (production) specification Subaru Impreza, to win the opening two stages of the day.
Atkinson's fastest time on the opening stage of the day elevated him from his overnight sixth position into second behind Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg. A dominate performance in today's second stage to win the 20.12km Murray South test by more than ten seconds over two-time World Champion Sebastien Loeb, elevated him into the lead.
"It was quite cool to lead your home rally. During this morning's first stage I was a bit untidy and was a little surprised by such a good time," said Atkinson.
"Throughout the day I haven't been taking any big risks, while the roads are clearing and my road position is helping me slightly but they are still quite slippery."
Two stages later disaster struck for Atkinson when he was slowed by a mechanical problem forcing him to lose over 40 seconds on Solberg, dropping him down the order to sixth position.
Atkinson and Macneall stopped on the side of the road at the end of the stage to make temporary repairs to the steering on their Subaru which enable them to contest the next stage of the event, the final one before heading back to service. Unfortunately their performance was hampered during this 20 kilometre stage due to the problem and they lost two-minutes to the rally leader.
"To have a problem like that happen when we were such a good position is disappointing but at least we are still in the rally and can fight back this afternoon and over the next two days. It just goes to show that you can go from hero to zero very quickly in this cruel sport," said Atkinson.
Following repairs by the Subaru team in the afternoon service Atkinson will contest the remaining two forest stages to be held late this afternoon and pair of super special stages around Perth's Gloucester Park this evening which will conclude the opening of three legs in the rally.
Solberg leads the way by 6.7 seconds ahead of Sebastien Loeb who is followed by Citroen team-mate Francois Duval. Atkinson is in 13th position two-minutes off the lead.
Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm battle with Solberg for the runner-up position in the Championship took a major blow this afternoon when he endured suspension problems on stage seven and dropped over a minute on the leaders.