AUTOSPORT spoke to former Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson about his full-time return to rallying with the Proton MEM team in this year's FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, after he was announced as Alister McRae's team-mate earlier today.
Q. So, you're back...
Chris Atkinson: Yes. And I'm really looking forward to driving again. I've missed it.
Q. What do you know about the Asia Pacific Rally Championship?
CA: I've done it before, but some of the events have changed. For example, I've never done Malaysia or Indonesia, but I do know the Australian rally, the Queensland Rally - in fact I've won it before. It's pretty close to home for me, about 200 kilometres from where I live; that's just down the street in Australia. It's a good championship with a lot of competition, though.
Q. And what about Alister, how well do you know him?
CA: I met him for the first time late last year. We went out for dinner and he's a really good guy. I'm sure we're going to have a good year working together. I think it's great for the sport that the two of us are in the Proton team.
Q. What do you say to people who see this as a sideways or backward step in your career?
CA: How can it be a sideways step? I'm coming back with one of the few manufacturer seats available in the sport. And I'm going to be doing rallies in a great Super 2000 car, which is really important to me. And I'm going to be experiencing a lot of different conditions this year, which is also really good news. At the end of the day, I'm going to be competing in a great car with a great manufacturer - which is fantastic news for me and for Stephane [Prevot, co-driver].
Q. How much do you know about Super 2000?
CA: Not much. Beyond the Proton, I haven't driven another one of those cars, but given my experience I'd like to think that I'll be able to adapt pretty quickly. I drove a World Rally Car for five years and I'm sure I can still drive a rally car quickly.
Q. How much have you done in the Satria?
CA: I did five or six runs at Sweet Lamb in Wales and that's about all.
Q. What was your opinion of the car?
CA: It was very impressive. I can't wait to get back in it and go again now. What matters right now is getting into the stages and driving.
Q. What do you think are the key differences between a WRC and Super 2000 car?
CA: In a World Rally Car you constantly have the potential to exceed the boundaries of traction, which makes throttle control vital, but in the S2000 car the key is carrying speed - that's what it's all about.
Q. The last year must have been quite tough...
CA: It wasn't so bad to start with and then we got pretty excited about the potential with the Monster team [and a potential WRC programme this season] and we were disappointed when that didn't happen as we hoped it would. But we just kept on working. Being out of the sport for one year was bad, but being out for two years would have been too much.