WRC

Rally Japan: Chris Atkinson final summary

ATKINSON MAKES WRC HISTORY IN JAPAN Australian Chris Atkinson has joined an elite club in the World Rally Championship (WRC) by finishing on the podium in third place during the Rally Japan, round 13 of the 2005 Championship, near Obihiro ...

ATKINSON MAKES WRC HISTORY IN JAPAN

Australian Chris Atkinson has joined an elite club in the World Rally Championship (WRC) by finishing on the podium in third place during the Rally Japan, round 13 of the 2005 Championship, near Obihiro today.

Since joining the Subaru World Rally Team at the start of 2005 Atkinson has shown tremendous pace aboard his WRC specification Impreza and this weekend he cemented a place in rallying history by equaling the best finish by an Australian in the history of the WRC.

The only Australian to previously finish on the podium in a round of the WRC is West Australian Ross Dunkerton who placed third in Rally New Zealand during 1992.

Atkinson began his 12th round in the WRC by setting the fastest time during the opening stage and become the first Australian to lead a round of the WRC. Throughout the weekend the 25-year-old Gold Coaster traded stage times with the World Champions of the past three years Sebastien Loeb, Petter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm and remained inside the top five for the majority of the weekend.

"The aim was to come here and achieve a good solid result but to finish on the podium in our first year is tremendous," said Atkinson.

"I think that this weekend showed that when we have competed in a rally previously we can be as fast as the best drivers in the world."

After enduring a tough day yesterday Atkinson entered today's final leg in sixth position and a mere 11 seconds behind fourth placed Gig Galli. When the young Australian set the fastest time on the second stage of the day he elevated himself inside the top five by a considerable margin.

The penultimate stage of the event had mixed emotions for Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall when Solberg, their Subaru team-mate, was forced out of the event whilst leading after hitting a rock and damaging the steering on his Impreza.

With Solberg was forced onto the sidelines it elevated Atkinson into third, a position he wouldn't relinquish for the remainder of the event despite some intense pressure from Francois Duval.

"We began today with the aim of getting a solid result and tried not to focus too much on the guys around us but rather concentrate on doing the best we possibly could and we set some very good times, including winning a stage, which put us in a very good position," said Atkinson.

"It is a great feeling and an honour to stand on a WRC podium, there is only one other Australian who has done it so today has been a very special day and something I will remember for a long time.

"Unfortunately for Petter he didn't get to take his second win in Japan but he showed how fast the Subaru is and hopefully we can both be up the front of the field during the next gravel round of the Championship in Australia."

Atkinson's podium result drew praise from Subaru Team Principal David Lapworth.

"Since Chris joined us at the start of the year we quickly discovered that he was fast but this weekend he proved that he has a lot more than just outright speed," said Lapworth.

"This weekend he "ticked all the boxes" by showing tremendous speed on the first day, he had some problems yesterday but maintained his composure and paced himself, then today he proved he could set some very good times while battling for positions."

When Solberg was forced out with a broken steering it was Gronholm who took the top honours ahead of Loeb who sealed his second World Driver's crown by virtue of his second place.

The next round of the Championship will be Atkinson's second tarmac rally in France on October 28 -- 30.

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Series WRC