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Fresh from signing a new deal that will see him remain with the Subaru World Rally Team until at least the end of 2009, Queenslander Chris Atkinson takes on the immediate challenge of Rally Catalunya in Spain this weekend.

Atkinson has demonstrated great pace on asphalt this year. At the last tarmac rally of the Championship, Rally Germany, he took a series of stage wins and consistently matched the pace of the series' benchmarks, Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm.
 
Atkinson says the surface holds no fears for him and he was pleased with the outcomes of the two testing sessions undertaken since Rally New Zealand last month.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to asphalt again,” Atkinson said.

“The tests went well, and we have had the chance to do a lot of fine-tuning. We were quick in Germany, and after the test I feel even more comfortable with the car.”

“We’re going well on asphalt, and I hope we will continue this pace in Spain. Being a very smooth surface, you can lean on the car more through the corners, so high-speed confidence and stability is important.”

“I’m looking forward to it and think we can continue improving the speed of the car and hopefully get some more stage wins.”

Atkinson’s is one of three Impreza WRC2007s in action in Spain. Joining the Gold Coast driver will be Petter Solberg and local driver Xevi Pons.

Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director, is positive about the rally ahead.

“Last week's asphalt test in Spain was encouraging and allowed us to continue to fine-tune the car and build on the improved pace we saw on the last tarmac event in Germany,” Taylor said.

“With a very smooth surface the conditions in Spain suit us well, and we hope to take advantage of recent developments to finish with Petter, Chris and Xevi in points-scoring positions.

Apart from running the weekend before Corsica this year, the event has changed little compared to the previous two years, although some of the special stages have been tweaked to offer a new challenge to the competitors. Most of the special stages are based in the mountains of the Tarragona region, about 120km south west of Barcelona.

The smooth, wide roads of Rally Catalunya make it the fastest sealed surface rally of the year. The majority of the Spanish asphalt is new and smooth and this event is the closest the WRC gets to a circuit race. Cutting corners is commonplace as drivers look for every advantage, and dirt dragged onto the road often leads to slippery and unpredictable conditions for those running further down the order.

Absolute confidence in the car and pace notes is critical to commit to the flowing high-speed stages, and grip levels can really be exploited to carry speed throughout the corner. For this rally, ride-height is reduced, allowing the cars to sit closer to the ground to reduce their centre of gravity, and the suspension is set much stiffer to reduce body roll and maximise cornering speeds.

Rally HQ is based at PortAventura, one of the largest theme parks in Europe, located near the seaside holiday town of Salou. The event will comprise 352.87km and ten stages, of which eight will be used twice, making a total of 18 speed tests. Six stages use exactly the same route as last year, with two stages – Coll del Grau and Le Serra d’Almos – being entirely new this year. The latter of these is actually the reverse of Thursday’s shakedown route.

The ceremonial start will take place in Salou on Thursday October 4 at 1930hrs (3am Friday October 5 AEST) while the cars will climb the finish ramp for the podium ceremony in the same location at 1500hrs (11pm AEST) on Sunday October 7.

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