ATKINSON TAKES TO THE SNOW IN SWEDEN
Australian Chris Atkinson put in an impressive performance during his competitive debut with the Subaru World Rally Team after recovering from an early mishap when he ran off the road on the opening stage in Sweden today.
The 25-year-old set off at an electrifying pace recording one of the fastest split times at the end of the first timed sector before he had an excursion into a snowy roadside ditch ran wide on a tight corner 7 kilometres into the stage. Despite some superficial damage and losing the glass from his window his Subaru Impreza remained mechanically in tact and Atkinson was able to push on
"It was one of those things I put down to experience, I came in a little too hot and ran wide, it is was simple as that," said Atkinson.
"The car went up on its side and then bounced back down, by that time it landed there were spectators running to help but to help us out but were able to get back on the road pretty quickly by ourselves. I think we lost about 25 seconds by the time we got back on the road."
While understandably being a little cautious over the following couple of stages Atkinson quickly regained his momentum to continually climb the learning curve of driving a WRC car.
Throughout the day Atkinson continually adapted to the characteristics of the Subaru Impreza WRC to climb up the order setting stage times inside the top 15 and finished the day 16th overall. His Subaru team mate and ex-Formula One driver Stephane Sarrazin, who was also making his snow debut with the team, is one place further back.
One of the most pleasing signs for Atkinson and his Subaru team was the fact that his pace was consistently a mere second a kilometre away from the pace set by the leaders.
"It has been a pretty interesting day, my first time in a WRC car and the first time here in the snow of Sweden. Overall I feel pretty good about the way it's gone, sure there have been a few ups and downs but that is all a part of the learning experience," said Atkinson.
"Throughout the day I felt that there were some places that my driving really came together well, it was all there, while at other times I had to throttle back and regain the feeling before increasing the speed again.
"To be one second off the pace was no surprise to me, I know I have the speed when everything comes together, and tomorrow I'm hoping to learn and improve some more."
Atkinson's Subaru team mate Petter Solberg set the early pace of the day to lead the way after the opening two stages. Throughout the day he was engaged in a close battle with Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb.
At the completion of the opening seven stages that comprised leg one of the event Gronholm leads Solberg by a mere 0.2 of a second followed by Loeb a further 10 seconds in arrears.
Temperatures varied throughout the day from -11 degrees during the opening stage to reach a high of 2 degrees in the afternoon. Skies remained bright all day with road conditions varying from snow, ice and gravel.
Tomorrow's second leg will consist of a further seven stages for a competitive distance of 139.53km followed by the final six leg stage on Sunday.