Atkinson's works Subaru drive

Subaru World Rally Team has finalised its 2005 driver line-up by signing 25-year-old Australian driver Chris Atkinson

Atkinson's works Subaru drive

The Queenslander, who finished fifth overall on November's Rally Australia in a Group N Impreza, will join the team from next year's Swedish Rally onwards. It is believed he will contest every event from round two onwards.

Atkinson joins former world champion Petter Solberg and one-time Formula 1 racer Stéphane Sarrazin in the Banbury-based team. Sarrazin's programme, announced last week, is for at least eight rallies. The team has not decided who will be nominated as a second points-scoring driver on each event.

"It's a fantastic chance to take a big step forward with Subaru," said Atkinson. "And to do so with team-mates like Petter and Stéphane makes it even more valuable. I've got a huge amount to learn but with Stéphane's history on asphalt, and Petter's all round experience you couldn't wish for better people to learn from.

"My aim has always been to reach beyond the national championships and to make it on the world stage. It's been extremely hard work but now I've got the chance. I guess I'm out to prove that an Australian can be fast in Australia and fast in the rest of the world too."

In addition to a Group N Impreza-based tilt at the Australian Championship - where he finished second, winning three from six rounds, Atkinson has also contested the Asia-Pacific Championship in a factory Suzuki Ignis, winning the Super 1600 title.

Despite his number two drivers' lack of world championship experience, Subaru team principal David Lapworth is confident about their chances next season.

Lapworth said: "With Chris, Petter and Stéphane I believe we've got the most dynamic and exciting driver line-up of any WRC team. I've been most impressed with what Chris has achieved this year. I believe his performance in Australia, where he set fastest stage times and beat drivers with far more experience, is a strong indication of his potential.

"Chris and Stéphane make a very balanced pairing. Chris has demonstrated his impressive pace on gravel but hasn't yet had the opportunity to show what he can do on asphalt, while for Stéphane the opposite is true. I'm confident though that both drivers have what it takes to be competitive across the board. Of course it's a high-risk strategy, but it's a fundamental part of Subaru's driver development philosophy. Our objective is to find another Subaru world champion and we'll do all we can to help Chris and Stéphane reach that goal."

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