Three weeks after Subaru's Chris Atkinson made rallying history by finishing on the podium in Rally Japan the young Australian will this weekend be turning his focus towards Rallye de France, Round 14 of the FIA World Rally...
Three weeks after Subaru's Chris Atkinson made rallying history by finishing on the podium in Rally Japan the young Australian will this weekend be turning his focus towards Rallye de France, Round 14 of the FIA World Rally Championship.
"Standing on the podium in Japan was an amazing feeling, especially when I was standing alongside two dual World Champions. I still don't think that our result in Japan has sunk in yet. It is something that you hope that would happen one day but for it to happen so early in my career is very pleasing," said Atkinson.
"In saying that though it is now time though to focus on the next event with realistic expectations and not allow them to be disillusioned by our performance in Japan."
The French event is only the second for Atkinson on a sealed surface aboard a WRC spec Subaru Impreza. He made his debut on tarmac with an impressive performance in Rally Deutschland two months ago where finished a creditable 11th. The most encouraging sign in Germany was the way he improved his speed throughout the three-day event, by the end of the rally he was close to matching the times of the leaders.
"While Japan was undoubtedly the highlight of the year Germany would be the highlight from a learning focus. At the start of the weekend we were three seconds a kilometre off the pace of the leaders and by the end of it we were only half a second," said Atkinson.
"Each day in Germany I continued to feel more comfortable in the car and this was highlighted in the stage times. I am looking forward getting back to the tarmac and learning even more this weekend."
Based on the island of Corsica the French event is a demanding one where both Atkinson and his West Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall will need to be right on top of their game as they contest the stages around the island's capital Ajaccio.
Ajaccio is more famous for being the birthplace of France's most famous son, Napoleon Bonarparte than rallying but the peaks that rise rapidly out of the sea make for some of the most spectacular sights in the WRC.
The rally route consists of rough and slippery tarmac roads that twist and turn around the Corsican mountains, with sheer drops to one side and a sheer rock face to the other leaving no room for error at any stage.
"Over the past couple of weeks I have spent a fair bit of time watching the videos of previous years and studying the roads but until I get there and complete the recce I won't be able to get a real feel for the surface and surroundings," said Atkinson.
"One thing that I know for sure about Corsica is that history shows there is very little room for error, one little mistake and you will be out of the event.
"For the first day it will be again a case of feeling my way on tarmac before building on my speed throughout the rally with the aim of gaining valuable experience on an unfamiliar surface and another solid result."
To be successful in Rallye de France drivers need either sublime skill on tarmac or extreme courage -- and it's preferable they have both. It comes as no surprise to see that only four non-French drivers have come away with the victory in this event over the past 20 years.
Markko Martin won last year's event but announced last week that he will not be contesting this year's event following the tragic on this year's Wales Rally GB in which his co-driver, Michael Park, was killed. He will be replaced in the Peugeot team by local ace Nicolas Bernadi this weekend.
The 49th running of the Rallye de France will begin on Friday morning with the first car taking the road at 9:18am local time. Across the three days of the rally crews will contest 12 stages comprising of 341.8 competitive kilometres.