(16/12/2013, Story courtesy of rallysportmag.com.au) Australia’s Chris Atkinson received the ideal Christmas present last week when he was named as part of the official Hyundai Shell World Rally Team squad for the 2014 World Rally Championship.
Having beaten his Subaru team-mate, Petter Solberg (five podiums to one), in the final year of the Subaru World Rally Team, Atkinson was just starting to hit the mark in the WRC, only for the rug to be pulled out from under his feet.
Since then he has had the occasional WRC outing, and won last year’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship driving a Team MRF Skoda Fabia.
Now, with a Hyundai WRC contract in his pocket, the likeable Aussie is looking ahead to 2014 and, most importantly, to having a crack at Rally Australia in September.
RallySport Magazine caught up with Atkinson for a quick chat.
RSM: Tell us how it feels, knowing that manufacturers still think you have plenty to offer at the highest level.
Chris: Of course its great to know that WRC manufacturer teams are still interested. It is definitely not easy to come back into a top team after being out for a number of years, but I think I have shown through a number of one offs and the APRC that I can still be competitive.
The only thing is nothing beats racing a full season year in year out, to keep you sharp.
RSM: You’ve had several test sessions in the Hyundai i20 WRC now. How is the car shaping up ahead of the 2014 season?
Chris: Everything is looking good and the progress has been great, given the time schedule. But you have to remember that 2014 is still a development year with the aim towards a new car in 2015.
RSM: Do you see any similarities between this car and other WRCars that you have driven in the past, or has the technology moved on a fair bit from your Subaru and Citroen days?
Chris: With the way the rules are, most WRC cars are fairly similar in some ways… of course you miss the torque of the old two litre engines, but the current cars are actually faster because of developments in suspension and differentials.
RSM: It’s been announced that you are driving in Rally Australia, which is fantastic. Are you able to tell us what other events you are likely to contest?
Chris: At the moment my full schedule hasn’t been confirmed, but the fact I am doing Rally Australia is great. Hopefully more news soon.
RSM: Given that you will only drive a few rounds of the WRC next year, is it realistic to expect that you can challenge for podium finishes in the car?
Chris: Like I said before, it is difficult when you are not racing full time, but I know I still have the speed to be top six, and when you are amongst that, then you never know how the rally will unfold. But really, a major part of my role is development as well.
RSM: Similarly, you’ve spent a couple of years in the APRC, winning the title in 2012, but several years out of the WRC. How hard will it be to come back in and set fast times from the outset?
Chris: Yeah, this will be difficult, although I may be able to do it on some stages. To do it everywhere, I would have to take some big risks, which is not the idea for this season.
RSM: What do you think are realistic expectations for Hyundai and Chris Atkinson heading into 2014?
Chris: Until we know where the car is compared to the others, it is hard to set targets. The main aim is to keep improving the car, then the results will come.
RSM: Good luck for the 2014 season!
Chris: Thanks, and thanks to everyone for their support with the announcement!