ATKINSON BATTLES FOR LEAD IN RALLY JAPAN Australian Chris Atkinson is engaged in a battle for the lead of Rally Japan with his Subaru World Rally team-mate Petter Solberg during the opening leg of the event near Obihiro today. Atkinson and...
ATKINSON BATTLES FOR LEAD IN RALLY JAPAN
Australian Chris Atkinson is engaged in a battle for the lead of Rally Japan with his Subaru World Rally team-mate Petter Solberg during the opening leg of the event near Obihiro today.
Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall began the day in sensational fashion to set the fastest time across the opening stage, the 9.05km Pawse Kamuy test, by 1.3 seconds ahead of Solberg.
When taking the honours in the opening stage Atkinson became the first Australian driver in recent history to lead a round of the World Rally Championship but as with many of his achievements the Queenslander took it in his stride and is maintaining his focus on achieving a good overall result.
"It's pretty cool, but we're not here to fight with these guys for the lead, we are here to get as much experience as possible and get to the finish in the best position possible," said Atkinson.
Showing true natural talent Atkinson continued his blistering pace throughout the ensuing stages and exchanged the rally lead with Solberg on three occasions during the opening four tests.
On the longest stage in the World Rally Championship, the mammoth 50.06km Kunneywa-Niueo test, it was Atkinson who shined brightest to claim the stage win by four seconds over Solberg, the fifth stage victory in his WRC career.
"It was a very tough stage, but seemed to go quickly. It is a cool stage which is very fast and narrow which I really enjoyed and stayed at a solid pace the whole stage," said Atkinson.
"Towards the end of the stage the tyres overheated a little so I was a little bit surprised by the time we set but overall I am very happy and will try to maintain a good consistent pace for the remainder of the event."
Atkinson has previously contested this event on two occasions previously aboard a Super 1600 spec Suzuki. In 2004 he won the Super 1600 class and finished 12th outright.
"Being here before definitely helps with your confidence as now I am the same as the other guys who have been here at least once before," said Atkinson.
"One of the most pleasing facts is that we aren't pushing any harder than we have in the last few events but our speed has come more from the knowledge of the local conditions because we have competed here before."
Today's opening leg is the longest in the event, and also one of the longest in the World Rally Championship with crews contesting a total of 163.36 competitive kilometres. A further five stages will be contested this afternoon with the three-day event continuing tomorrow and Sunday.
Solberg, the 2003 World Champion, holds a 12-second lead over Atkinson with Finnish driver Marcos Gronholm seven seconds further back in third.
Australian Champion Cody Crocker is also competing in Rally Japan aboard a Group N (Production) spec Subaru Impreza. Crocker is currently third in his class and 18th outright.
The local time in Japan is one hour behind AEST.