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Atkinson says he has 10 years to hit the top

Atkinson has switched from a Proton to a faster Skoda Fabia S2000 this year.

Australia's most successful international rally driver claims that at 32 he can still force his way back into the top level of racing in the World Rally Championship. The quietly-spoken Gold Coaster is the hot favourite for this weekend's International Rally of Queensland where he is competing in round three of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship that he is currently leading.

"I've still got a lot of years left in me," he said yesterday at the shakedown for this weekend's event through the slippery forest roads of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

"Just look at (Petter) Solberg who got a factory drive with Ford at 38 and is still running at the front, so I reckon I've got at least another eight to 10 years in me."

Atkinson won the Queensland event in 2004 before heading to the WRC with the Subaru factory team until 2008. He has since competed in the past two APRC seasons, coming a frustratingly close second last year.

"The break from WRC has really refereshed me and now I'm keen to get back to the top," he said.

In an effort to revive his WRC career, Atkinson will compete in a Ford Fiesta in the Finnish and German events later this year for "drift king" Ken Block's team.

"I need to be doing WRC events. That is the only way to show your true speed up against the best in the world," he said.

"I've been in discussion with teams, but they want to see what we can do in the WRC.

"There are still only a handful of drivers who can run in the top three and we used to be one of those. But that was three years ago and people want to see I can still do it."

Atkinson doesn't mind the pressure of being "hot favourite" for the third year in a row at the Queensland rally, despite mechanical issues in the past two years preventing him from converting that favouritism into victory.

"I guess that's expected at a home event," he said.

"I put the same pressure on myself and you have to work harder than the others. It's a rally I have to win.

"But rallying is a team sport and our team is better prepared this year."

Atkinson has switched from a Proton to a faster Skoda Fabia S2000 this year and is leading the series with team-mate Gaurav Gill second.

"That's the first thing you have to do; beat your teamnmate, but Gill will be quick."

His other main rival is his replacement at Proton, Per-Gunnar Andersson, a two-time Junior World Rally Champion. Atkinson said the wet clay surfaces in the forestry stages will make this event "tricky".

"Usually it's a hard surface with plenty of grip here, but there are some new surfaces with clay on top and when it gets wet it's more like ice than dirt," he said.

"There will be a lot of changing from wide roads with good grip to narrow roads with no grip, so you will have to drive precise and choose the right tyres and car set-up."

The 44th International Rally of Queensland also features other series running concurrently such as the Australian Rally Championship and, for the first time, the Side-by-Side Rally Challenge with former Australia including three-time ARC winner Cody Crocker driving with V8 Supercar racer Tim Slade.

PROFILE

Chris Atkinson

Born: November 30, 1979, Bega
WRC career: Subaru 2004-2008, Citroen Junior team 2009. 68 rallies, 6 podiums, 41 stage wins, fifth in 2008 season.
Career highlights: 2003-04 Super 1600cc Asia Pacific champion; second in 2004 ARC, winner 2002 Australian Privateers Cup

 

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