Australia's star in the World Rally Championship has been sitting on the sidelines since Subaru pulled out of motorsport before the start of the 2009 season, apart from a one-off run to fifth in Ireland in a Citroen.
Now Chris Atkinson has been signed by Proton to lead its attack on this year's Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, which could easily become a stepping stone back into the WRC with the Malaysia maker. Proton is competing in the new S2000 category with a Satria Neo developed in Britain by Mellors Motorsport and Atkinson's team mate is speedy Scot Alistair McRae.
The pair will open their 2010 action in just over a week in the Malaysian Rally before competing in six other events including Rally Queensland on the Sunshine Coast from July 31 to August 1. Ironically, Atkinson drove the course car for the Queensland event last year during a break at home on the Gold Coast while he was searching for a drive.
"I've been out for a year and that was tough, but to be out of the sport for two years would have been way too much," Atkinson says. "I really appreciate this opportunity to work with Proton, it's going to be great to get behind the wheel and go racing again."
His car has been quick in previous starts, although not as pacey as the latest S2000 Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia. It has had several podium finishes in Europe. But the Asia-Pacific series has been dominated in recent years by another Australia, Cody Crocker in a showroom-class Subaru Impreza, and he is not competing in the championship this year as he works towards a start in the world championship.
Atkinson has already tested the Proton in Wales and will run again in Malaysia before the rally, after a break this week in Queensland.
"I'm really excited about the year ahead. I've tested the Satria Neo S2000 briefly in Britain and it's a very, very good car," he says.
Atkinson should be the pace-setter in the Asia-Pacific series after 32 points-scoring results in his 67 starts in the world championship with Subaru. He was also a class champion in the regional series with Suzuki on his way up the rally ladder.
"To be honest, I can’t wait to get started," Atkinson says.