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Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, takes part in Rally GB in Wales this weekend (December 1-3), the final round of the 2006 World Rally Championship.

Rally GB is one of the most testing events on the calendar, and this year’s running is considered by most to be an even greater challenge, as the shift back to a winter date increases the possibility of ice, fog, mud – and even snow.

Atkinson, after completing two southern hemisphere events in Australia and New Zealand, has been back in Europe acclimatising, and taking part in a four-day gravel test program last week in Wales.

It is just the second time that the Queenslander has contested Rally GB, but he is hoping that his past experience in Tasmania can help him and co-driver, Glenn Macneall, finish the year with a strong performance.

“I contested Rally GB for the first time last season, but with the date change I’m expecting conditions to be quite different this year,” Atkinson said.

“It won’t be a completely new experience, because I’ve done winter rallies in places like Tasmania, where the conditions were similar.”

“Last year there was a little bit of mud at the start, but the stages were dry on the second leg. This year there will probably be ice and fog, which will make it tricky.”

“Some of the Rally GB stages are new, and that could level the playing field for me because the more experienced drivers will be learning the route too.”

“We’ve had some good speed at certain points of the last two rallies, so now we’re working on trying to find that pace for an entire event.”

Atkinson, who turns 27 on Thursday (November 30), was placed sixth after the opening day at 2005 GB before he had an off on the opening stage of the second day.

The Australian will once again team with Petter Solberg, the 2003 World Champion, who has won in Wales four times.

The varied nature of the gravel stages and the traditionally unsettled Welsh weather makes the rally notoriously difficult to prepare for. Historically it has been an event where the Subaru World Rally Team has been strong. In all, Subaru has taken nine wins on the last 11 occasions on which Rally GB has been part of the WRC (it was not part of the 1996 championship).

Leg one takes place on Friday in the undulating valleys of south Wales, then the crews travel north to the fringes of the Brecon Beacons for leg two. Saturday includes two runs through a trio of well-known tests – Crychan, Halfway and Epynt – before the day ends with the 1.1km Cardiff Super Special held inside the Millennium Stadium.

The third and final leg comprises two runs through Brechfa and Trawscoed, although this year the drivers will tackle the stages in the opposite direction compared to 2005. These two long stages take place on a hard-packed surface, but while the former test is fast and features some long, cambered corners, the latter is much tighter and strewn with hairpins.

The overall competitive distance is 356km and the first car is due onto the finish ramp inside the Millennium Stadium at 15.41 (local time) on Sunday 3 December.

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