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Fact: Australia has its first-ever paid driver in a World Championship factory rally team after Chris Atkinson was signed with Subaru World Rally Team for a two year contract.

The announcement that Chris will be contracted to SWRT for a rumoured $1.5 million per year, says a lot about the Queenslander and his backers who have had so much faith in him over the previous two seasons. It recognizes that Subaru have sufficient faith in him and his abilities as well to again find a spot for him in the team beside the team’s lead driver, Petter Solberg.

The past two years have been tough for Atkinson. Not only has he had to struggle with a car that has been increasingly difficult to drive, he has had to prove something else – that an Australian can drive just as quickly as anyone else in the world, and his times have proved this in the recent past.

Year one was little more than a baptism of fire, learning to come to grips with the car and experiencing most of the qualifying rounds for the very first time. That was no easy task. Many of the other top WRC drivers have had years of experience on tarmac, on ice and snow, something that was completely new for Atkinson, but he gradually found the speed needed to record some fastest stage times, which he did with ease many times.

Things have not always gone his way. Several big crashes must have delivered him a wake-up call that fastest stage times also can bring with it extra risk that a big accident can be waiting just around the corner. But persistence and a willingness to learn have always been one of Atko’s trademarks.

It is an unfortunate fact that to climb the ladder of success in a World Championship rally team, a driver needs to initially buy his way into the team with a substantial amount of money.

Fortunately Atkinson has had the support of not only his immediate family, specifically father John, but a group of Queensland businessmen who could see his potential, and who backed him all the way. It was a gamble that could just as easily failed to work, yet Chris Atkinson knew this, rewarding them at last with the highest accolade an Australian rally driver could hope to achieve – a berth in a works team.

The 2008 season will be an even greater challenge as the new Subaru WRCar comes on stream mid-year. With all the problems of the current Impreza hopefully engineered out, the race between Atkinson and Solberg will intensify. Chris Atkinson’s brief will be not just about scoring fastest stage times, but about claiming some regular podium finishes.  

For a young Queenslander who has been rallying for just a few short years to find himself now driving alongside (and beating) the world’s best drivers, it must be nothing less than a dream come true. It’s great news, and well deserved.

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