Australian Chris Atkinson has finished ninth at the Rally Catalunya in Spain to claim his fifth top ten result since joining the Subaru World Rally Team at the start of the year. In only his third tarmac event Atkinson exceeded even his ...
Australian Chris Atkinson has finished ninth at the Rally Catalunya in Spain to claim his fifth top ten result since joining the Subaru World Rally Team at the start of the year.
In only his third tarmac event Atkinson exceeded even his own expectations with the improvement he showed over the weekend on the unfamiliar Spanish stages which are the closest that the World Rally Championship comes to resembling circuit racing.
"At the start of the weekend we set an agenda of speed where we would like to be by the end of the rally and by midway through the second day I think we were right on target," said Atkinson.
Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall finished the opening day in 15th position but the pair were not fazed by being outside the top ten as their focus was firmly fixed on gaining experience and learning their craft on the unfamiliar surface.
"The opening day was simply about getting into the groove on roads that we hadn't driven at speed before and on a surface that we have very limited experience on, it was all about getting to the end of the day without any incidents," said Atkinson.
Throughout the second day 25-year-old Atkinson showed some impressive improvement to set stage times inside the top ten on four of the five competitive stages contested. In the process he elevated himself up six positions to be inside the top ten.
"Yesterday was probably our best day on tarmac. Sometimes it can be frustrating that we are not challenging the top of the leaderboard after being right up there in Japan, however we had to be realistic given our limited tarmac experience," said Atkinson.
"The most pleasing aspect is that when you look at the times over our three tarmac events we are continually getting faster and adapting to the conditions very quickly. I have been very happy with the improvement with each stage but there is still a lot more to come before I can comfortably push 100%."
Today's final leg of the rally was one of the shortest in the WRC with three stages across 68 competitive kilometres being contested.
With each of today's stages forming a part of the route earlier in the rally it provided Atkinson with an opportunity to reacquaint himself with the characteristics of stages he had contested previously. These repeated stages highlighted Atkinson's improving pace as he reduced his times by over half a minute across the 68 kilometres and set a time inside the top ten during each of the three tests.
"It was good to improve our times like we did but there was no real need to push today, although we took some time our of the guys in front of us in the first stage we decided there was no real need to push too hard and focused on consolidating the position we were in," said Atkinson.
"All throughout the weekend we've had no problems at all and have learnt a lot. I think that the set-up and driving style are coming together and I've been able to lift my speed all the time."
Newly crowned double World Champion Sebastien Loeb completed another masterful performance to record his 10th victory of the year. His Citroen team-mate Francois Duval made it a quinella for the French team finishing second ahead of Mikko Hirvonen. Hirvonen clinched third ahead of Xavier Pons on the final stage of the rally.
The next, and final, round of the WRC will be Telstra Rally Australian to be held in Western Australia on November 10 -13. In the corresponding round last year Atkinson stunned the WRC community with an amazing performance to finish fifth outright aboard a Group N (Production) specification Subaru Impreza.
"I can't wait to get back to Western Australia, I am really looking forward to it and after our podium finish in Japan we've got a lot of confidence on gravel and hopefully we can put this into practice at Rally Australia and achieve another good result," said Atkinson.