ATKINSON MATCHES IT WITH THE WORLD'S BEST IN FINLAND Australian Chris Atkinson showed his natural talent on some of the fastest and most spectacular roads in the World Rally Championship at the Neste Rally Finland today. Throughout the day...
ATKINSON MATCHES IT WITH THE WORLD'S BEST IN FINLAND
Australian Chris Atkinson showed his natural talent on some of the fastest and most spectacular roads in the World Rally Championship at the Neste Rally Finland today.
Throughout the day the 25-year-old Australian proved that he is capable of mixing it the best in the business by setting times within reach of the leading drivers over the opening six stages of the day.
In an event which is usually dominated by the local Finnish and more experienced drivers Atkinson set stage times inside the top five on four occasions.
Determined to make up for yesterday's incident where he encountered a broken steering after hitting a rock Atkinson recorded the third fastest time on the third stage of the day (10.00km Urria), a mere 2.9 seconds behind rally leader Marcus Gronholm.
Even one of the fastest and toughest stages in the Championship, the famous Ouninpohja stage, failed to faze Atkinson and he recorded times within seconds of his Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg and defending World Champion Sebastien Loeb over the pair of tests.
"Competing here in the Group N helped a bit but I didn't do Ouninpohja at speed last year because we had some problems with the car, therefore today was basically the first time I had gone through the stage at real speed," said Atkinson.
"I was a bit fired up after yesterday and it is good to do those times, especially on Ouninpohja which is probably one of the toughest stages in the world. We were right up there with the guys that have done it for so many years and it is a tough stage so that was a nice feeling to do that.
"The stage where we were third fastest was one of our better stages last year because we didn't have any problems so I think being here before definitely helps. When we come back next year I am confident we can go faster again."
While the morning exceeded all expectations Atkinson unfortunately left the road in a fourth-gear left-hand corner 21km from the start line and rolled into a ditch during the longest stage of the event (40.96km Moksi-Lestu) this afternoon.
"We had a good start to the day and pushed hard but unfortunately made a little mistake this afternoon and got the car stuck in a ditch but there is no major damage," said Atkinson.
"It happened on a fourth gear left hand corner which was a little bit off camber and I just touched the bump on the outside which squared us up and we went down the ditch, flipped over once and landed on our wheels. The car was driveable but it just took some spectators to help us out of the ditch.
"We will restart tomorrow with the aim of continuing at the pace we set this morning, I felt comfortable, ok we made a little bit of a mistake this afternoon but it wasn't ridiculous and we are continually learning."
Overnight leader Marcus Gronholm tightened the grip on his fifth Rally Finland in six years by winning six of today's eight stages aboard his Peugeot. Entering tomorrow's final leg the Finnish driver holds a minute lead over Loeb. Estonian Markko Martin is third, half a minute clear of Atkinson's Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg.
Tomorrow's final leg consists of four stages across 66.56 competitive kilometres with the first stage beginning at 9:44am local time.
The time in Finland is seven hours behind AEST.