Although Hyundai will not contest any World rallies this year, Atkinson’s appointment is good news for Australian fans and will boost interest in his home event Coates Hire Rally Australia, Round 10 of the WRC to be staged on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 12-15 September.
He recently visited the team’s headquarters in Alzenau, near Frankfurt, to have a first glimpse at the i20 WRC, meet the team and have a seat fitting ahead of his maiden test.
Hyundai said he will support main test drivers Juho Hanninen of Finland and Bryan Bouffier of France at selected tests during the rest of the year.
The appointment is a significant development in the experienced Australian’s quest to secure a regular drive with a top WRC team.
Atkinson drove for the Subaru World Rally Team from 2004 to 2008, but has appeared irregularly since the company withdrew from the championship.
He had one-off drives in factory-run Citroen WRCs in 2009 and 2012. Last year he also drove a Ford Fiesta for American privateer Ken Block’s team in Mexico and contested five European rounds for the official Mini team, while simultaneously wrapping up his maiden FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship in a Skoda.
In Mexico in March he returned to the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team, finishing an impressive sixth.
Atkinson’s wide knowledge of all the events and terrains featured in the WRC, as well as good experience with all current-specification World Rally Cars, will be a valuable asset to the Hyundai team as it prepares to launch one of the most widely-anticipated campaigns in years.
London’s Financial Times newspaper reported recently Hyundai is investing 300 million Euros in its WRC campaign as part of a drive to build its brand in Europe.
“It is such an exciting project. After visiting the Hyundai Motorsport factory three weeks ago, I am simply impressed by the team’s commitment and achievements so far,” Atkinson said.
“I have a lot of experience of many different WRC cars and events and I will utilise this knowledge to support the development of the 2014 i20 WRC car.”
Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “It is great to be able to integrate Chris into the Hyundai Motorsport testing line-up for this season and I am convinced he will bring a lot of valuable WRC experience.”
Coates Hire Rally Australia welcomed Atkinson’s news.
“Rally Australia congratulates Chris on joining the Hyundai test squad. We’re extremely proud of his achievements as an Australian in the WRC,” Chairman Ben Rainsford said.
“He has worked hard for his success over 10 years in the WRC and we look forward to seeing where his career goes from here.
“Chris deserves to be back in the WRC full-time and it would be wonderful to see him take his position as another Australian regularly on the world motorsport stage.
“While there is no expectation at this time that he will contest Coates Hire Rally Australia, we hope we will be present on the Coffs Coast, where he will be welcomed by his many supporters.”