WRC

Rally Japan: Chris Atkinson preview

Australian Chris Atkinson will be counting on his experience from the past two years in the Asia-Pacific Championship when he tackles Rally Japan, the thirteenth round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC later...

Australian Chris Atkinson will be counting on his experience from the past two years in the Asia-Pacific Championship when he tackles Rally Japan, the thirteenth round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC later this week.

Atkinson, a dual winner of the Asia-Pacific Super 1600 Championship, has twice competed in the event which joined the WRC for the first time in 2004. In last year's rally the 25-year-old won his class, finished an impressive 12th outright and set some amazing stage times in the process.

With the event coming just two weeks after Wales Rally GB and the tragic accident that claimed the life of Peugeot co-driver Michael Park, preparations for Japan's usually colourful and vibrant rally have been made in a more sombre and subdued atmosphere than normal.

"Rally Japan simply won't be the same without Beef (Michael Park), he was a top guy and will be sadly missed at not only this event but for many years to come," said Atkinson.

"I have competed in Rally Japan twice with some very good results and I know the roads quite well due to the event being a part of the Asia-Pacific Championship before it joined the WRC.

"After setting some really good times on Wales I am confident that I can continue this form this weekend and transfer it into a good result.

"Last year I had a great run here finishing 12th, winning my class and also beating many of the Junior World Rally Championship drivers. Hopefully I can build on this performance and get my second lot of Championship points for the year."

Last year Atkinson's Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg led the rally from start to finish to claim a popular victory in the marques home country in front of almost a quarter of a million fans.

Rally Japan is one of the most technical events on the WRC calendar with the narrow, twisting, loose gravel stages taking place between the Hidaka and Daisetsuzan mountains. Adding further interest to the variety of stages which include long straights, 90-degree corners and the longest of the entire World Championship, the marathon 50.06km stage from Kunneywa to Niueo, is the unpredictability of the Japanese weather.

The Japanese event is one of only four rallies in the 16-round calendar where teams must choose one tyre pattern for the entire event and with some long stage groups it is anticipated that of the roads are dry that tyre wear could be an important factor.

"I really enjoy the Japan roads, they are fast but very technical and seem to suit my style of driving," said Atkinson.

"Keeping an eye on the weather is going to be a vital part of success this weekend because it is very changeable, at the moment it is very dry here but anything can happen in a matter of hours in this part of the world.

"Petter won here last year and it would be great to repeat this performance year in the heartland of Subaru."

Rally Japan is based in the town of Obihiro, on the northernmost of Japan's four islands, Hokkaido. It is only the third event this year that Atkinson has contested prior to joining the Subaru World Rally Team. His West Australian Co-driver Glenn Macneall also competed in Rally Japan last year alongside Dean Herridge to finish 11th.

Also competing in Rally Japan this weekend will be fellow Australian's Cody Crocker and Dale Moscatt aboard a Group N spec Subaru Impreza for Subaru Japan.

The rally begins on Thursday night with the Ceremonial start followed by the opening stage on Friday morning which begins at 7:33am. Throughout the three days of competition crews will contest 350 competitive kilometres across 26 special stages.

Defending World Champion Sebastien Loeb leads the Championship over Solberg by 34 points with four rounds remaining, including Telstra Rally Australia during November. Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm is third on 61.

The time in Japan is one hour behind AEST.

-car-

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