Aussie’s Citroen Junior Team Debut Ends with Gallant Fifth-Place Finish
Australian driver Chris Atkinson has taken home the Abu Dhabi ‘Spirit of the Rally’ award for Rally Ireland after finishing his debut FIA World Rally Championship round for the Citroen Junior Team in fifth place.
The former Subaru star - who lost his 2009 WRC drive when the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of this year’s championship - defied the torrential Irish weather and his unfamiliarity with a new car to set a raft of top three stage times.
And if it wasn’t for a decisive slick tyre choice by Stobart’s Henning Solberg, who passed Atkinson on the penultimate stage, the 29-year old would have claimed fourth spot.
“I’m surprised yet grateful to win the Spirit of the Rally award. It’s been a tough week for everyone with the conditions and I’m really happy,” said Atkinson. “I made a mistake on the penultimate stage and Henning (Solberg) took fourth but I have to be happy with fifth.
“Hopefully this award will gain me a little more recognition and maybe even attract a potential sponsor from Abu Dhabi. We’ve got a lot to offer for anyone who gets behind us – the car is great and it’s a really exciting opportunity.
“I know Etihad Airways are targeting Australia and if they want an Aussie on-board I’m sure we can do some really great things,” added Atkinson.
The ‘Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally’ award is designed to acknowledge a positive contribution to the WRC by any of the myriad of parties involved in the sport, and recognises parties demonstrating the same values that the UAE capital stands for; respect, innovation, integrity and teamwork.
Solberg revealed a telling insight into Atkinson’s attitude when he described catching up with the Australian before the pivotal penultimate stage. “I knew Chris was on the winter tyres so I decided to go for the slick tyre instead. I showed Chris before the stage and he said ‘Henning, I really like your style’!”
Officials from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - the UAE capital behind the Spirit of the Rally award - paid tribute to Atkinson’s performance.
“One of the main challenges in the WRC is adapting to the different terrains and driving styles the season brings. As one of the sport’s most recognisable drivers, Chris’s performance in Ireland epitomises the never-say-die WRC spirit. The resilience he has shown to put aside the disappointment of losing his Subaru seat - and put in such a commanding drive in an unfamiliar car - makes him a deserving winner of the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally award,” said Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.
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