Atkinson returns as Number One

AUSTRALIAN Chris Atkinson starts as the top-seeded driver in the Malaysian Rally on his return to international competition today.

Atkinson will be first on the road in his factory-backed Proton R3 Malaysia Rally Team Satria Neo S2000, in which he will contest the 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, including the International Rally of Queensland in late July.

This weekend’s opening round of the APRC promises plenty of rain and slippery conditions in the Tai Tak Estate rubber plantations, venue for the 16 timed special stages near the southern city of Johor Bahru.

Atkinson’s seeding indicates that the Queensland driver, a veteran of 67 starts in the World Rally Championship, is regarded as a formidable contender despite having had minimal testing experience in the British-run Proton and spending most of 2009 without a drive.

After a busy week of promotional duties, which included a demonstration run for Proton factory workers and team launch by the Malaysian Sports Minister, Atkinson and fellow Proton driver Alister McRae of Scotland yesterday tackled the traditional pre-event shakedown competition.

The pair was equal third-fastest on a 2.5 kilometre course that did not suit their high-revving Proton S2000s.

Indian driver Guarav Gill, also heading for Australia on 30 July-1 August with the MRF Tyres team, was fastest in a Group N Mitsubishi ahead of teammate Katsu Taguchi and Yuya Sumiyama, both of Japan.