After a six-week mid-season break, Subaru Rally driver Chris Atkinson is back in action in Finland this weekend for the ninth round of the World Rally Championship.

Atkinson, who is enjoying his best season, is currently fourth on the championship table with 31 points, only behind Mikko Hirvonen (59 points), Sebastien Loeb (58) and Jari-Matti Latvala (34).

Atkinson gathered his tally early in the year while steering the Impreza WRC07. Finland will be just his third event behind the wheel of the new Impreza WRC08. The Gold Coast driver did not add to his points tally at his first two outings in the car in Greece or Turkey with luck going against him, but his team mate Petter Solberg recorded a second and a sixth placing, demonstrating the car’s potential.

While Atkinson would dearly like to maintain his push for a podium placing at the end of the year, he knows the priority across the reminder of the season is to develop his new car so it is ready for a full-on assault on the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Atkinson has only tackled Finland four times before, his first being aboard a Group N Impreza STi. His best result came last year when he finished fourth.

While developing the car is the priority, the Queenslander would love to produce a top result in one of his favoured events.

“We’ve done a lot of testing since Turkey and the guys have learned a lot, so I hope we can make some good steps in fine-tuning the car,” Atkinson said.

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into competition.

“Finland is a rally of big risks and you have to push hard right from the start to get a good result. We’ve seen some good and close battles here in the past, and I hope we can be up there this year.”

“It’s a great event. The terrain gives the rally a great character, and with the huge support of the fans, it’s one of my favourites. It’s definitely the rally everyone wants to win most.”

Rally Finland is an event that allows the locals to shine. It attracts a top field of Scandinavians in addition to the regular WRC drivers who may well finish high on the leaders’ board.

Subaru World Rally Team principal, David Richards, believes the new Impreza can do well on the Finnish roads.

“I’m sure that Petter (Solberg) and Chris will be fast in the new WRC2008 as it is well suited to fast and flowing roads,” Richards said.
“Our work since Turkey has been fruitful and I’m confident that we go to Finland in our strongest position yet in recent years.”

Subaru World Rally Team operations director, Paul Howarth, knows Finland will be another performance indicator for the new Subaru rally machine.

“We’ve done a lot with the car since Turkey but Finland will clearly tell us where we are in terms of performance,” Howarth said.

“It is one of the highest speed events of the year so it’s all about absolute precision and having 100 per cent confidence in the car.

“There can be tenths of a second per kilometre just in driver confidence – it’s paramount here as it’s a high risk event with no room for error. It’s the first time we’ll use the soft compound Pirellis, but testing has all been positive – it’s not a hard rally on cars or tyres.”

Based from the town of Jyvaskyla, one of Finland’s cultural hubs, the rally route winds through spruce forests archetypal of the region and skirts some of Finland’s 60,000 mirror-smooth glacial lakes. Serene as it sounds, the landscape is unforgiving and wayward cars stand little chance of dodging rocks and trees to rejoin the rally.

The 2008 Rally Finland comprises 24 stages, of which five are new, totalling 340.42 competitive kilometres.

The event starts with the traditional spectator stage at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday night. Run at the end of their summer, the temperature is expected to be around 20 degrees Celsius, milder than many would expect for northern Scandinavia.
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