The 2012 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship drivers champion Chris Atkinson is in action this weekend at his home event WRC Rally Australia. Atkinson will drive one of three Hyundai i20’s along with Belgium’s Thierry Neuville and Kiwi Hayden Paddon at the event based in Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.
Joined by regular co-driver Stephan Prevot there is not too much home advantage for Atkinson as he hasn’t competed at Rally Australia since the event shifted to its new based in Coffs Harbour New South Wales, although Atkinson does live near the area and has a good understanding of the roads in his native country.
Atkinson said: “Your home event is always special and the fact I haven’t done it for a few years makes it even more significant. Since my last rally in Mexico with the team back in March I’ve not done much racing, which is unfortunate because nothing beats time in the car. I tested for two days in France before going to Australia to get the feeling again and work on set-up on my Hyundai i20 WRC. My target for Australia is to be consistent and be in the fight for a good result, but I’m not underestimating how difficult it will be to be on the pace after six months away. The car is showing some good speed so everything is heading in the right direction. I know we’ll have some really strong support from the Aussie fans too.”
Hyundai arrive in Australia bolstered by an outstanding result at last month’s Rallye Deutschland, the team finishing 1st and 2nd just one-and-half years after establishing the team.
With a podium place finish in last year’s Rally Australia and last month’s win in Germany, Neuville is quietly confident “Claiming our first win was of course a moment we will never forget, however we have to stay with our feet on the ground and be focussed for Australia. We had a very good result there last year and I know the roads quite well now, so we will definitely be looking to have a clean run, to bring the car to the finish and try to set some good times.”
Likewise Paddon, another former APRC driver is quietly confident, “Rally Australia is the event I have been looking forward to the most and is as close as we get to a home event. It is extra special for us as we have a lot of support from New Zealand flying over waving the Hyundai and Kiwi flags – so I hope we give them something to cheer for. We had a really good test in France recently and have adapted a new set-up from what we had at the previous events.”
Based in the Gold Coast in the town of Coffs Harbour – halfway between Sydney and Brisbane – Rally Australia kicks off on Friday 12 September, after a Rally Show held in the city centre on the previous day. Competitors will head south of Coffs on both Friday and Saturday with the highlights being the two runs of the Hyundai Super Special Stage on both evenings and the two passes over the 49km Nambucca stage – one of the longest in the Championship. The itinerary will move north of Coffs Harbour for the final day with six of the 20 stages being run before the Podium Ceremony.