ATKINSON FIGHTS BACK IN THE WEST Australian Subaru driver Chris Atkinson has mounted a tremendous fight back to be in sixth position at the end of the second leg of Telstra Rally Australia, the final round of the World Rally Championship, in ...
ATKINSON FIGHTS BACK IN THE WEST
Australian Subaru driver Chris Atkinson has mounted a tremendous fight back to be in sixth position at the end of the second leg of Telstra Rally Australia, the final round of the World Rally Championship, in Western Australia today.
Atkinson, who turns 26 at the end of the month, led the early running of the event yesterday after winning the first two forest stages before mechanical problems dropped him down the order to 13th as some of his more fancied rivals failed to finish the opening leg. Two-time world champion Sebastien Loeb crashed out of the rally in the final forest stage yesterday and Marcus Gronholm was forced out earlier in the day with suspension problems ending his final event with the Peugeot team.
With the top seeded drivers running in a reverse order for today's second leg Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall was the second crew to tackle today's stages on the marble-like surface which gives the drivers among the first in the running order a distinct disadvantage as they are forced to sweep the roads and unveil a hard packed base for their rivals behind.
Despite this disadvantage Atkinson pushed his Subaru to the limits during the opening stage of the day and set the tenth fastest time through the first pass through the 17.71km Bannister North test. His time could have been closer to the leaders if not for a high speed spin mid way through the stage which tore the front spoiler from his car.
"We had a big spin in sixth gear, I don't know how we got away with it, we were very lucky. At one stage we were heading straight for a tree stump but we managed to get the car back on the road with only minor damage and lost about 10 seconds," said Atkinson.
"The spoiler got torn off and the wheel alignment was put out a little bit but the car was still very good to drive and we set a respectable time considering our road position."
With no service until later in the afternoon Atkinson was forced to contest four stages without a front spoiler which severely hampered his pace. Despite the lack of down force he set times within reach of the leaders.
"It was pretty tricky out there without a front spoiler giving us down force on the front of the car and the roads were also very slippery. We tried not to lose too much time this morning but it did make us work harder this afternoon," said Atkinson.
In another twist in the drama of this weekend's event rally leader, Petter Solberg was forced to retire from the rally after hitting a kangaroo at high speed on the second stage of the day. The impact caused severe damage to his Subaru's cooling system, radiator, fan and oil cooler.
Atkinson ruled the forest roads this afternoon setting the fastest times across the two stages contested in the Western Australian state forests, in the process taking his number of stage victories to the year to 11. Only World Champions Loeb, Gronholm and Solberg have won more stages than the young Australian throughout the year.
By virtue of his stunning pace Atkinson has moved to within seven seconds of fifth placed Gigi Galli.
"The plan for tomorrow is to push as hard as we can until the end and finish as high as possible. Hopefully our road position will help us a bit more and can close the gap to the front runners even more than we did this afternoon," said Atkinson.
"The higher up we go the tougher it is to gain positions but we will certainly give it our best shot tomorrow."
Citroen driver Francois Duval is on track to claim his maiden WRC victory with a 27 second lead over Colin McRae. Harri Rovanpera is in third position, 39 seconds ahead of Manfred Stohl.
Telstra Rally Australia concludes tomorrow with the final leg consisting of six stages across 103 competitive kilometres.