Q & A: Atkinson on his WRC comeback

Former Subaru star Chris Atkinson returns to the WRC with the Monster World Rally Team on next month's Rally Mexico

Q & A: Atkinson on his WRC comeback

AUTOSPORT caught up with the Queenslander to hear about the challenge ahead, driving a Ford for the first time and some Monster Ken-speak...

Q. So, you're back.

Chris Atkinson: Yeah, it's great news - it's taken me a while though!

Q. How much of a relief is it to be back in the WRC?

CA: Massive. This is the main game, where everybody wants to be.

Q. What's the deal?

CA: At the moment with Monster for Mexico, but I've always said I wanted to try and do three or four rallies this season. One event is great, and believe me after being on the bench in WRC terms for a few years, one rally is fantastic, but I feel I've got to prove some stuff again and a three or four-rally programme would be awesome.

Q. Things have changed a bit since you were at Subaru...

CA: You're telling me. This is the first time I've driven one of the new cars with the 1600cc engines and the first time I've ever rallied a Ford World Rally Car.

Q. You tested last week. How was it?

CA: It was fantastic. I was up at Greystoke for a day and a half. Given that this was the test for Mexico, I was a bit worried that it might be snow and ice, but it was okay. It was just great to be in the car again. I really didn't do much with the car during the whole test, I just wanted the put some miles down; I just didn't want to get out of it! This is a big difference from my last serious test, which was with Subaru and in a car which still had a lot of electronics and hydraulics in it. Under the new regs, you just get in and let rip. I loved that, just getting in the car and driving it.

Q. These new cars - and the Ford in particular - run quite soft with the suspension. How did that feel?

CA: The movement in the car takes a little bit of time to get used to, but it works; it so works! This car won the last time out in Sweden and led the Monte Carlo, so it completely works. It takes a little bit of time to get your head around the way the car moves on the turn-in to corners, but the precision is very good and grip is amazing. Certainly, on the second day of the test I was used to the way the car was running and I loved it.

Q. And the transmission: did you miss the paddles?

CA: Not so much. Don't forget, I've spent quite a while in Super 2000 with Proton, so I'm used to the sequential gearbox and that style of driving. And I enjoy that style of driving, being quite aggressive with the car and making the car work under me. You really have to drive these cars.

Q. What can you do in Mexico?

CA: I don't know. I know what I'd like to do...

Q. What's that?

CA: Finish second to Sebastien [Loeb], just a minute off him, like I did last time.

Q. Surely you want to win, don't you?

CA: Yeah, but let's be realistic. First time out in the WRC for a few years - I'd be cool with second, give the boys a chance! Seriously, I'm really not too sure what to expect in terms of a result. The others are in and out of these cars every other week and I'm out here for the first time. I don't know.

Q. You like Rally Mexico, though...

CA: I do. I like the roads and, hopefully, I'll be able to remember a few of them. I've always gone pretty well there, so let's see.

Q. And what about you? Beyond driving Protons and winning rallies in the Asia-Pacific Championship, what else have you been doing?

CA: I've been on my bike.

Q. For three years?

CA: Yeah!

Q. So you'll be in pretty good shape then?

CA: Genuinely, I'm in better shape than when I was at Subaru [in 2008]. I've always enjoyed training and I've been in the gym and doing some miles. So, I'm feeling pretty good - and there's nothing like having something like this to train for.

Q. How excited are you about this?

CA: Ah, it's massive, mate! Absolutely massive. You know, you really don't know how good you've got it until it's gone. I was working hard along with Subaru and Prodrive, getting the car to suit my style, things were coming together and I was thinking: "Yeah, Atko's going to win a rally soon, world championships are coming..." And it's not being cocky or anything like that; as a driver you always back yourself with that kind of self-belief. But then this freight train came and ran my career off the rails for a while.

Q. Things were coming good in 2008 as well...

CA: They were. Like I said, I was becoming more involved in the set-up and development of the car [at Subaru] and I was beating Petter [Solberg, Subaru team-mate] regularly. We were having some tough times in the team and it was hard to know how good the Impreza was; all I could do was measure myself against the guy in the other blue car [Solberg] and we beat him through the season. I was even quicker in 2007, but I found the consistency in 2008. But that's done now, that's history. I feel completely refreshed now.

Q. As excited as when you first came to WRC?

CA: Maybe even more so. I got a good taste of it and that's left me hungrier than ever for another go. I've done everything I can to make sure I'm in the best shape and I feel I'm a more mature and faster driver than I've ever been. I'm ready to kick it.

Q. "Kick it?" You sound like Ken Block...

CA: Kick it! I sound like Atko! I can't wait to get to Mexico. I'm stoked with the drive and the livery of the car looks mad - the vibrancy of the birds is everywhere man! Have you seen Ken's spoof launch video? Maybe I am sounding a bit like Ken. I've known him and been mates with him for a while now and to get this chance to join him and the Monster World Rally Team is a big one for me. I really am stoked - who wouldn't be?

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