Chris Atkinson joins Team MRF

Hari Hara Nandanan

Team MRF will have an ace up its sleeve when it competes in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship this season.

Chris Atkinson of Australia is Team MRF’s new driver in 2012. Chris is not new to APRC as he had won the Asia Pacific Super 1600 Championships in 2003 and 2004. Following his success in Super 1600, Atkinson represented the Subaru World Rally Team from 2005 to 2009 in a Subaru Impreza.

Team MRF has been struggling to keep pace with the cars in the championship for some time now. Though Armin Kremer of Germany and Jussi Valimaki of Finland gave them the APRC titles in 2003 and 2005 respectively, MRF found it difficult to compete with the stronger cars. It took them another five years to earn their third title when Katsu Taguchi of Japan triumphed in 2010.

So Atkinson’s choice seems a calculated move to bring back the glory days for the Indian team again. “Chris, with an aggressive attitude and a highly-rated professional with vast experience in the diverse terrain of the APRC, is the right choice for MRF’s quest for the title, as he has also been driving the Proton S-2000 for the past two years,” said MRF motorsports head Tony Rodricks.

A formidable driver, Chris has strangely never won an Australian or Asia Pacific Rally Championship title, although he was always dominating in most championships and was affected by technical problems. In 2002 he won the Australian Privateers Cup and was second overall in the Australian Rally Championship in 2004.

Rodricks added that had Taguchi been available to drive a Skoda, his team would have been left with a tough choice. “We needed an experienced driver in S-2000 cars and you can’t get a better one than Atkinson at the moment as he has not only driven the car, but he has done that in the APRC stages,” he said.

Atkinson’s best WRC Championship ranking was fifth overall in 2008. His best position in the highly competitive WRC was second place in Rally Mexico in 2008. He competed in 67 World Rally Championship rounds, with 40 stage wins. He is competing in the Rally of Mexico WRC round this week in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC. In APRC last year he was deprived of the title despite three convincing wins in Malaysia, New Caledonia and New Zealand.

Atkinson’s co-driver will be Stephane Prevot of Belgium. Chris will join Gaurav Gill in APRC for MRF. Gill’s navigator is Glenn Macneall of New Zealand. The first round of the APRC is scheduled for March 30-April 1 in Whangarei, New Zealand.

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