Chris Atkinson Sumar
2004 - Second, Australian Rally Championship
2004 - Winner, Asia Pacific Super 1600 Championship
2003 - Winner, Asia Pacific Super 1600 Championship
2002 - Winner, Australian Privateers Cup
The first Australian to become a full-time WRC driver, Chris Atkinson is a new face to the World Rally Championship but one Subaru believes is on course to be a star of the future. Talented and determined, Chris will benefit from Subaru's philosophy
of developing the careers of promising newcomers. Having impressed with a Group N Impreza, 2005 looks set to be a momentous year as he moves up to the top class in rallying with the full support of the Subaru World Rally Team.
From speed freak to stockbroker
It's fair to say that rallying is in Chris Atkinson's blood. As a youngster in Bega, New South Wales, he spent much of his time watching his father, John, competing in the New South Wales Rally Championship, and from that point on he became hooked on the sport. A born competitor, he excelled at a variety of other sports including football, running, rugby and tennis, but was undoubtedly happiest when travelling under power, preferably at speed. As a teenager Chris spent much of his time enjoying the thrills and spills of motocross riding until 1995, when he was awarded an academic scholarship to Bond University and the dirt track action was put on hold. On successfully completing his commerce degree, majoring in finance and accounting, Chris' future as a stockbroker looked assured. And it was, at least it was until he decided he wanted to go rallying.
A family affair
Chris' first attempts at rally driving were from the co-driver's seat, navigating for his brother Ben aboard a 1972 Toyota Corolla on Australian regional championship events. However, after only a couple of events Chris decided he wanted a go behind the wheel himself, so the pair swapped seats for the final round of the 2000 Queensland Rally Championship. Although it was only meant to be a one-off experiment, Chris proved to be rather handy as a driver and the brothers stuck with their new places. Lessons at the Rick Bates Rally School followed, as well as more rally experience at club level, before his first major rally on the opening round of the 2001 Queensland Rally Championship. Remarkably, and with less than 80km of competitive driving under his belt, Atkinson was first in his class and third overall, a result that convinced him to tackle the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) the following year in spite of his lack of experience.
At the wheel of a privately entered Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Chris impressed in his first full year of competition in the ARC. He finished inside the top ten in Group N and well inside the overall top 20 at every round on which he competed. During the year Chris set second-fastest stage times on two occasions which, considering his age and experience, gave an indication of his tremendous potential. In one of the most competitive Australian Rally Championships ever, the Atkinson boys finished ninth outright and were crowned Privateer Champions. This performance brought Chris to the attention of Suzuki who gave him the opportunity to drive one of their Super 1600 Ignis models with Suzuki Sport team in the 2003 Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
Chris rewarded the team with a class win in the opening round of the Championship in Canberra. Next came a second place in New Zealand, a second in Japan and two remarkable wins in Thailand and India. Atkinson was duly crowned Asia Pacific Super 1600 Champion, but perhaps of more significance was his position of fifth overall, across all classes, in the Asia Pacific Championship - ahead of many more powerful 4WD turbo-charged cars.
The success story continued in 2004, when Atkinson was the dominant driver in the Australian Rally Championship, winning three of the six rounds. His success wasn't limited to the Australian shores as he successfully defended his Asia Pacific Super 1600 title and showed exceptional pace on rounds of the World Championship in New Zealand, Finland and Japan. In November, and with new co-driver Glenn Macneall, Atkinson finished his year on a high by winning the Group N category and finishing fifth overall on his first attempt at Rally Australia - the highest finish by a Group N entrant in the 17-year history of the event.
Making an impact
His performance was rewarded with a contract from the Subaru World Rally Team which will see him contest the majority of the sixteen WRC events in 2005. Alongside the Subaru team's other drivers, Petter Solberg and Stéphane Sarrazin, Atkinson will be looking to build on his impressive Group N and Super 1600 credentials and rise to the challenge of top-level rallying.