AUSTRALIA’S top international rally driver Chris Atkinson is aiming to earn more outings with his new Hyundai FIA World Rally Championship team by posting a strong performance at next month’s Rally Guanajuato Mexico. Atkinson, who is already confirmed for his home event Coates Hire Rally Australia on 11-14 September, will make his debut for the Korean-owned team on the championship’s first gravel outing of the 13-round season. His impressive record on Mexico’s tough, high-altitude stages – he finished second in 2008 in a Subaru and sixth last year in a Citroen – meant he was the logical choice to partner team leader Thierry Neuville in a key test of the new Hyundai i20 rally weapon. Rally Guanajuato Mexico, round three of the WRC, will be run around the historic city of Leon, 400 kms north of Mexico City, on 6-9 March.
Having spent the past 12 months mostly on the WRC sidelines or testing for Hyundai, the one-time Subaru World Rally Team driver is determined to make the most of his opportunity, he told the official website WRC.com. “I’ve still got a lot of years – and good years – left in me and I’m massively motivated,” Atkinson said.
“Having a break makes you realise what you want and I know that I really want the WRC. “We’ve got Mexico coming up and then Rally Australia towards the end of the year. I’d love to get some more events in between and hopefully a good performance in Mexico will increase the chances.”
Atkinson successfully completed his preparations for Mexico with a test in southern Spain earlier this week, before returning briefly to his Gold Coast home. The 34-year-old says he continues to be impressed with the progress the German-based team has made with the i20 WRC in a short time. “The car keeps improving all the time, which is great,” he said.
“The team is working flat out to make improvements and keep learning. We’ve made some big steps forward after only two rallies and I think if we can get both cars to the finish, score some points and get some good gravel data in Mexico, that will be really cool.”
Atkinson is one of four drivers – with Neuville, Finland’s Juho Hanninen and Spain’s Dani Sordo – charged with taking Hyundai to the track in 2014. The manufacturer is reported to be investing 320 million Euros ($AUD490 million) in its rally program over four years to raise its global profile and showcase a new line of high-performance road cars. Atkinson was without a regular drive after the Subaru factory team withdrew from the WRC at the end of 2008, but has never stopped pushing toward a return. Having achieved several limited appearances in Ford, Citroen and Mini cars he’s been considered one of the most experienced – and valuable – non-regular WRC drivers. He also retained his competition edge by contesting the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, winning the drivers’ title for Skoda in 2012.