Autosport International

Autosport International

Chris Atkinson at ASI

One of the star-studded cast to appear at the Autosport International show on Friday was the Subaru World Rally Team's new signing Chris Atkinson. The 25-year-old is Australia's brightest rallying prospect and will partner Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin in one of the WRC's most successful works teams in 2005.

Amazingly, Atkinson has never even driven a WRC machine before. He rose to prominence with Asian Pacific Super 1600 titles as well as a handful of impressive showings in a Group N Impreza in world championship events last year. The highlight came in Australia, where he set some stunning stage times and finished a superb fifth overall - the best result for a Group N car in the event's 17-year history.

Atkinson won't be taking part in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally due to his inexperience with the surface (he is a gravel specialist and has never driven on snow or ice) and the unique nature of the event. His season will instead get underway at the Swedish Rally in February.

We caught up with him to discuss his goals and the challenges facing him in his first season in rallying's top echelon.

It's been pretty incredible. It happened so quickly; we never expected to be in the WRC with a great team like Subaru this year, so it's very exciting for both me and [co-driver] Glenn [McNeill] and we plan to make the most of the opportunity.

I've sat in the passenger seat with both Petter and Stephane but I've never actually driven one, so it's something I'm waiting for and looking forward to. I've had experience in Super 1600 and Group N, but now I've got to prove myself in a WRC car.

Yeah, the Monte is a bit of a lottery really - a lot of tyre choices come into play and considering I've never raced much on tarmac or ice and you get both situations in the Monte it's probably a good plan to build up more slowly and go to Sweden, which is more like the gravel events that I am used to.

World Rally cars are a big step up for me and there's a lot more technical knowledge involved. Setup is very important and I've got to use the team and the engineers around me as that's how you get the speed out of the cars. Obviously in a high-speed event like Sweden, the difference in downforce on a WRC car compared to a Group N car is huge. The way the active diffs work, it's all going to be a lot faster and you have to carry a lot more corner speed. It's going to be fun - I like the fast stages and hopefully I can make the most of them.

There's quite complex technology in the car with the active diffs and the amount of development that goes into the setup of the car. So I've got quite an array of engineers to use and work with to get the most out of my style with the WRC car.

Yeah, I've sort of gone that way anyway - with Super 1600 and Group N I'm reasonably neat, but I think with the aerodynamics and the diffs you can be even neater and hold the line better [in a WRC car]. I think my style should suit that, but because I haven't driven the car yet it's hard to know.

We have to look for the future and obviously we want to be in the WRC for the long term and make a career out of it. I guess the biggest thing is showing potential to win in the future; everyone, like Petter for example, has taken a few years before they start winning and that's part of the challenge of the WRC and the events. But I've got to work hard this year and show that potential.

What my results will be depends on a lot of variables, but I think it's more the stage times and getting the experience. If we can start to set some good stage times towards the end of events and maybe get some good points-scoring finishes in the events we know, then that would be a good year.

It's an amazing team - I've never had such support and resources behind me and to go into a team that's won so many championships before is pretty incredible. That amount of knowledge and experience is priceless, so I'm just trying to make the most of everything that's there and asking as many questions as possible of everyone.

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