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Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, has fought back strongly on day two of Rally New Zealand, the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship.

Currently lying fourth in the championship, Atkinson started the event strongly, but rolled out of yesterday’s first leg, requiring a major rebuild to his Impreza WRC2008 overnight.

Content on using the remainder of the event as a test session, and to further improve the still-new Impreza for the gravel events still to come in the championship, Atkinson started the day’s six stages steadily.

“The guys did a great job to get the car ready last night in time for us to start again this morning, so I’d like to thank them for that,” Atkinson said at the day’s first service break.

“It felt good in the first stage, but it feels like the handling is different from yesterday. We’re really seeing some road cleaning today, especially as the stages are run only once. With our road position we should be able to take advantage of that more, though.”

After the service, and with renewed confidence in his driving and in the car, the Gold Coast driver started to attack. With an advantageous road position, he was fifth quickest on the 32 kilometre penultimate stage, and then blasted through the final 33 kilometres in the third fastest time.

“This afternoon was better and we were able to push for some better times,” he said, “but overall today has not been good.

“We had some problems with the suspension struts that meant the car wasn’t damping properly, but after we changed them in service it was better. We’ve still got a lot to learn with this new car and it’s frustrating that we’re in this position, as from testing we know this car can perform far better.”

Tactics were the major talking point at the front of the field. World Champion, Sebastien Loeb, took the lead late in the day, but slowed at the end of the final stage to allow the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen to move ahead. The two Finns will act as road sweepers tomorrow as Loeb pushes for a fifth consecutive Drivers’ championship.

A further five stages will complete Rally New Zealand tomorrow, including two runs over the spectacular 30 kilometre Whaanga Coast stage. The rally ends with a Super Special Stage at Mystery Creek, just out of Hamilton.

Repco Rally New Zealand

Results after Leg 2

1. Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Focus), 2h57m29.0s
2. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus), +9.3s (diff. to 1st)
3. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4), +13.3s
4. Dani Sord (Citroen 4), +15.7s
5. Francois Duval (Ford Focus), +1m40.9s
6. Urmo Aava (Citroen C4), +2m49.8s
7. Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza), +2m52.8s

30. Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza), +21m03.4s
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