ATKINSON HALTED AFTER A FLYING START IN FINLAND

Australian Chris Atkinson began the Neste Rally of Finland in impressive fashion this morning running inside the top ten while tackling some of the most famous stages in the World Rally Championship near Jyvaskyla, Finland.

Unfortunately his good run was short lived when he clipped a rock on the apex of a right-hand corner one-kilometre from the end of the fourth stage in the Championship's most prestigious rally.

While the impact appeared to be only minor, it was enough to damage the steering on his Subaru Impreza WRC and force Atkinson onto the sidelines for the remaining five stages in the leg.

"The day definitely started well, we were running inside the top eight for our first time in Finland, I think a lot of people were expecting us to be outside the top 15 so it was a good start," said Atkinson.

"Unfortunately near the end of the third stage on the first loop of the day, actually on one of the slowest corners in the rally, we clipped a rock with the right front wheel and broke the steering. It was a bit frustrating that we couldn't get through the stage and were out for the leg."

Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall will restart in tomorrow's second leg under Superally regulations.

Since the start of this year, Superally regulations have given drivers the opportunity to accept some penalty time, repair their car and re-join the event at the start of the next Leg.

"On the down side it again means that a potential good result has gone begging but on the positive side it is only a minor problem with the car and it will be repaired for us to restart tomorrow and gain further experience on some of the toughest and fastest roads in the Championship," said Atkinson.

"The car was working really well and I was very happy with how the whole Subaru package is working now. I look forward to getting out there in the next two days and pushing on again.

"Over the next two days we want to get a bit of pace to start with but then try and pick it up a bit as well. We were running quite comfortably this morning. I hope we can pick it up and go a bit faster when we restart tomorrow.

"The WRC car takes the huge jumps very well, I don't think I was going too slow over them but I could have actually gone flat out over a lot of stuff but you learn and hopefully we can come back and go faster in the future."

Atkinson competed in Finland last year when he competed aboard a Tommi Makinen prepared Group N Impreza courtesy of the support from Telstra Rally Australia, Qantas and Network Ten.

Prior to last night's start he caught up with Makinen for a brief chat about the progression in the young Australian's career from one year ago.

Local hero Marcus Grohnolm leads the event narrowly ahead of Sebastien Loeb who is followed by 2003 Rally of Finland winner Markko Martin.

Gronholm's day has been a dramatic one with his co-driver Timo Rautianen left nursing back pain after a heavy landing and was unable to read out the pace notes for the 13.96km sixth stage, as a consequence Gronholm lost time and was only seventh fastest over the stage.

Atkinson's Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg had an incident filled afternoon. The Norwegian was in third position for the majority of the day until he ran off the road on the penultimate stage of the leg losing valuable time and dropping him to fifth.

Tomorrow's action consists of eight stages across a competitive distance of 144.76km including the famous Ouninphja stage, the fastest stage in the Championship. Over the years the original 30km stage has seen cars reach speeds in excess of 200kmph the stage has been split into two separate stages for safety reasons.

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