Subaru World Rally Team's Chris Atkinson finished his debut year in the World Rally Championship in style with a fourth place on today's final Leg of Rally Australia, only six seconds away from a podium finish. The result is the 25-year-old's second top four finish since joining the team at the start of the year and also equalled Ross Dunkerton's 1993 effort as the highest placed local driver in the Australian round of the World Championship. Atkinson was the dominant driver throughout the weekend, recording the fastest time on nine of the 26 stages, four more than any other driver, taking his number of stage wins for the year to 15. The only drivers to win more stages throughout the year are world champions Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg. Despite retiring on yesterday's second Leg, Petter finished the 2005 season in second position in the drivers' championship, continuing the record of Subaru World Rally Team drivers finishing in the top two since 1999.
SS21 0733hrs Atkins 1 (4.42km)
Following a 10 minute service in Perth Leg three started at the short Atkins stage east of the host city. After a quick start, at the one kilometre point crews went through a series of narrow left bends before a steep uphill left hairpin bend one kilometre from the finish. Fastest once again was Subaru's Chris Atkinson, who won his seventh stage of the event, to grab fifth position from Gigi Galli. Ford's Roman Kresta spun and stalled the engine, losing around 40secs, and dropped to eighth behind team-mate Gardemeister, while Harri Rovanpera closed the gap to second-placed McRae to 3.5secs. Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 2:59.6
SS22 0803hrs Helena North 1 (29.93km)
At just under 30km, Helena North was the longest stage of the rally. Made of two 2004 stages joined together, the rollercoaster speed test featured a very fast start, a series of dips and crests and a big sixth gear jump at the finish. Overnight leader Francois Duval took his first stage win of the Leg, but there was a change in the top three as Harri Rovanpera moved ahead of Colin McRae into second. Atkinson continued his charge up the leaderboard with the second fastest stage time and closed the gap to fourth-placed Manfred Stohl to just over 25secs with four competitive tests left to run. Toni Gardemeister also moved into the top six as Galli finished the stage over 37secs slower than Duval. Fastest Stage Time: Duval (Citroen) 17:13.2
SS23 0844hrs Helena South 1 (17.31km)
Set in the same forest as the previous Helena North, part of the third stage of Leg three ran alongside the Mundaring dam. All crews reported that the road was incredibly slippery with lots of loose gravel covering the surface, putting the first crews at a disadvantage as they were obliged to sweep away the marble like surface for those following. Harri Rovanpera benefited from his starting position of eighth to take his first stage win of the day, just 0.2secs ahead of Atkinson, as he consolidated his newly-won second place. The gap between Atkinson and Stohl narrowed slightly to just over 22secs while Duval continued to lead the rally by 36secs. Fastest Stage Time: Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) 9:09.4
SS24 1133hrs Atkins 2 (4.42km)
After fighting for second position throughout Legs two and three, Scottish driver Colin McRae was forced into retirement in the service between SS22 and SS23. A routine clutch change proved to be longer and more problematic than anticipated and the Skoda crew failed to check out from service within the time limit. McRae's retirement elevated the rest of the field up one position. Toni Gardemeister and Atkinson took a joint stage win with identical times, the first victory for the new evolution Ford Focus. The closely-matched duel between newly promoted Stohl and Atkinson in third and fourth places respectively intensified as Atkinson took more time out of the Citroen driver's advantage. Fastest Stage Time: Gardemeister (Ford) / Atkinson (Subaru) 2:57.2
SS25 1203hrs Helena North 2 (29.93km)
With two stages remaining, all eyes were on the battle that raged for third place between Atkinson and Stohl. The young Australian started the stage 22secs behind but was fastest at every split time point and closed the gap to eight seconds at the finish. Toni Gardemeister stopped off the road with a water pump drive belt failure, which moved Galli and Kresta to fifth and sixth and Spaniard Dani Sola into the final points scoring position. Ford's Czech driver Kresta was less than a second slower than Atkinson through the 30km stage, with Duval third. Fastest Stage Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 17:04.5
SS26 1244hrs Helena South 2 (17.31km)
Chris Atkinson once more set a highly competitive time through the 17km stage in his battle with Stohl. The Subaru driver's efforts closed the gap to just six seconds, but Stohl did enough to retain third position. Citroen's Francois Duval recorded the third fastest stage time to score his maiden WRC win, more than 50secs ahead of second-placed Harri Rovanpera. Gigi Galli took fifth behind Stohl and Atkinson, with Kresta taking three points for the Focus on its debut. The top eight was completed by Sola and Schwarz, who scored the final point on his last-ever WRC event. Fastest Stage Time: Kresta (Ford) 8:59.6
Subaru World Rally Technical Director, David Lapworth
Of course it's going to take a while to get over the disappointment of Petter's retirement yesterday, as well as Chris's bad luck on Friday, but we got some consolation with Chris's excellent fight back today. Both our drivers have delivered excellent performances this weekend and we end the season in excellent shape, well motivated and ready to start all over again in January.
It's been an interesting rally, one with some highs and lows, but considering how much time we lost on Friday, to finish fourth today feels incredible! I pushed as hard as I could today and we so nearly caught Stohl, but to close the gap from almost 50 seconds to five shows we did a good job and I'm extremely happy. I want to say thanks to all the guys in the team for their hard work, they did a fantastic job and thanks too to all the supporters on the stages, it was great to see you all rooting for us! Of course it's satisfying to finish our first WRC season on a high, but in fact I think we've been able to take something positive from all of the rallies this year. Together Glenn and I have learned so much and I can't wait to get back out on the stages again next season.
News From Pirelli
Terenzio Testoni, Pirelli Tyre Engineer
I feel very sorry that Petter and Chris both lost the lead of a rally they equally deserved to win. However we are delighted with the performance of all our gravel tyres which were used here on the demanding and hot roads of Australia. The number of fastest stage times set by both drivers clearly shows what the Subaru-Pirelli package is capable of and underlines the positive results that we have obtained in testing during the year.
Team Talk - Rally Australia facts
Rally Australia is one of the most popular events on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. Renowned for its distinctive, dusty red roads, beautiful scenery and crowds of enthusiastic supporters the event has been voted 'Rally of the Year' by World Rally teams three times in 2000, 1999 and 1995.
The rally is one of Western Australia's premier sports events and has been hosted in Perth for the last 18 years. Over 2,000 volunteers helped to organise this year's event and over 4,500 sporting officials have been involved since its inception. Several 'second generation' officials are now used - officials whose parents were involved at the very beginning!
The Gloucester Park Superspecial took 40,320 man hours to construct. The 2.35km figure-of-eight track was constructed in an arena normally used for horse-trotting, a sport that originated in Perth.
14,000 square metres of basecourse gravel material was used for the surface of the Superspecial. The track also featured the Qantas jump, the top of which stood three metres off the ground. On Leg two, the Subaru duo of Atkinson and Solberg both hit the jump in fifth gear at a speed of 125kph. Most of the WRC class cars flew in excess of 40 metres through the air. Subaru co-driver Phil Mills described the course as the hardest Superspecial on the calendar.
Including spectators, officials, media, teams and contractors, more than 46,000 people are expected to attend the 2005 Rally Australia. Organisers estimate that in 2004 more than 52 million people watched the coverage on television.
The 2005 event will be local boy Glenn Macneall's 13th Rally Australia. Born in Albany WA on 4 August 1972, he first competed in 1993 in a Daihatsu Charade with Leigh Hynes and hasn't missed a round since. Glenn teamed up with Chris Atkinson for the 2004 rally, guiding him to 5th position in a Group N car, the highest finish by a Group N entrant in the history of the event.