Atkinson excels with highest WRC career finish as SWRT continue strong season
Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot completed Rally Mexico in spectacular style, recording their highest ever finish together in a World Rally Championship event with a hard-fought second place. Meanwhile
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills pushed hard to clinch the final Manufacturers' Championship point, keeping the Subaru World Rally Team in second position in the overall standings.
Atkinson's second podium in three rallies this season jumps him to fourth overall in the Drivers' Championship, just six points shy of the top of the standings. It's his best start to a WRC season, and firmly establishes the Australian as a contender for WRC victories. Solberg and Mills lie just behind in fifth in the Championship standings, as the team continue their strong start to 2008 with more solid points.
On a day when the avid local fans were out in force to support the late inclusion of this event into the WRc calendar, spectator numbers overwhelmed stage 18, the 22 kilometre Guanajuato test, and the decision was taken to abandon it. The longest of the day, its cancellation reduced the day's competitive length by one third.
"Chris did a fantastic job and I firmly believe he can win an event before the end of the year" said Subaru World Rally Team Principal David Richards. "We've had a very encouraging start to the year and we're putting ourselves in a very strong position for when we launch our new car, the WRC2008. Petter did a good job today, and from our performance here in Mexico it is clear to me that we have made some positive steps forward since Sweden, and will continue to do so as we look to Argentina in a few weeks time."
Atkinson started the final day in second position with a comfortable buffer of over one minute behind him to third. As the Australian promised yesterday, he had a steady day to ensure he did enough to clinch his highest ever WRC finish without taking any unnecessary risks. Opting for two spare wheels as an added safety buffer along the rough and jagged gravel speed tests, the 28 year old was leaving nothing to chance, knowing how easy it is to fall foul of these conditions.
Despite the punishing routes, soaring temperatures and oxygen-thin air over the last three days, his Impreza WRC2007 suffered no significant problems. The Australian felt comfortable with the handling and balance of his car all weekend, and drove a solid rally to be awarded eight points for both himself and the team, the single largest haul of his World Rallying career.
"It's a fantastic result, my best in the WRC!" said Chris Atkinson. "All the team, the guys on my car, Subaru all did a top job. It was good fun to beat Sebastien [Loeb] on the Superspecial at the end there! It's a great start to the year for me and also for the team, and I hope we can keep building on this. We're making good steps forward and the car felt really good this weekend. We did some work on the dampers after Sweden and that was a big help -- they were good here in the heat which is always a tough test. Now we look to Argentina and to keep this performance going. The sooner I can win the better!"
Solberg and Mills restarted this morning under Superally regulations, and left the morning's service fighting fit. On the day's opening stage and with a car the team worked on fervently yesterday afternoon, Solberg felt happy with the balance of his Impreza WRC2007 and was able to push hard to post the second fastest stage time, almost three seconds clear of the rest of field.
Over the final day's 38 kilometres of stages, Solberg and Mills fought hard to climb to 12th overall, displaying their characteristic grit and determination to the very end to keep the team in second position in the Manufacturers' Championship and keep himself close enough to fight for a top spot in the Drivers' Championship as the season develops.
"Today we were ok in the first stage, but with big gaps between everyone at the front people were backing off" said Petter Solberg. "We scored a Manufacturer point which is important, but other than that it's been a frustrating weekend really. But we keep working and pushing, and Argentina will be better."
The third day of Rally Mexico brought more of the weather crews had come to expect. Temperatures rose to 28 degrees Celsius by midday, and the dry roads yielded clouds of dust with every passing car. The modified route consisted of just three stages, ended with the final running of the immensely popular Nextel spectator Superspecial stage.
The next challenge for the crews is Rally Argentina. Another classic round, this year the event returns to the month of March, having been run in May in recent times. Potentially, this means wetter and more unpredictable weather, and the risk that the many fjords will become engorged and the soft gravel roads will become rutted and waterlogged. Based in the town of Cordoba, the stages wind through the surrounding mountains and valleys. The altitude will again be a factor in performance on this tough event.