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Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson heads to Sardinia this weekend for Rally Italia, the Queenslander looking to build on the impressive 2008 season that has netted him four podium placings from the first five events.

Atkinson’s stellar start to the season sees him sitting in third place on the Championship points’ table on 28, two behind four-time World Champion Sebastien Loeb and seven in arrears of series leader, Mikko Hirvonen.

Last start was Jordan, where Atkinson finished third. While there will be little respite in the Mediterranean from the heat experienced in the Middle East, the roads at least will be more familiar, as Atkinson takes on the Italian island round for a fourth time.

The soft and almost sandy gravel roads wind through a combination of unspoiled green mountainsides and the contrasting dusty, rocky routes found in the lower regions.

Rocks ruined Atkinson’s visit to Sardinia last year. With two stages to go on the opening day, he was forced to stop after hitting several of them scattered across the middle of the road just around a blind corner. He made it back for the final two Legs, learning a lot but frustrated about how cruel this event can be.

Atkinson has never placed higher than tenth in Sardinia, and the Gold Coast driver has a strong desire to correct that record.

“I’m not thinking about another podium finish, but just concentrating on our pace and fighting as high up as we can.” Atkinson said.

“It’s important to drive smoothly and without mistakes in Sardinia, as the roads are very technical and narrow, but it’s a rally I enjoy.”

“I just hope I can have a good event and run competitively. No talk of podiums, but we’ll target a top five and see how things go from there.”

Subaru World Rally Team operations director, Paul Howarth, is well aware that his charges, Atkinson and Petter Solberg, face another difficult weekend.

“This has traditionally been a tough rally, especially because the stages are so soft and the surface becomes badly deteriorated by the second passes,” Howarth said.

“This rally is all about reliability and consistency, as all the stages are hard on the cars and tyres. The soft surface will present a very different challenge for the drivers and the setup of the car to the very hard roads we saw last in Jordan two weeks ago.”

The event begins with a ceremonial start in the exclusive resort of Porto Cervo, 30 kilometres to the north of the service park, and consists of 17 stages stretching 354 competitive kilometres across the northern provinces of Olbia, Sassari and Nuoro.

While many of the planned routes are very similar to those used in previous years, the final day is almost completely new.

The Sardinian round, the first of three consecutive European events, will be followed by the Acropolis Rally (Greece) from May 29 to June 1, with Rally Turkey then to run from June 12 to15.

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