Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has established himself as a real contender for a podium finish by completing the opening day of Rally Mexico in third place.

The Queenslander had a strong day, taking advantage of his good road position early on, and consistently set top four stages times on the rough and rocky roads in the Mexican highlands.

Jari-Matti Latvala leads a tightly bunched field. At the end of the eight special stages he is 9.6 seconds clear of Sebastien Loeb and 22.4 ahead of the Australian.

Atkinson’s Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg is in fourth place, a further 39.4 seconds back, with series leader Mikko Hirvonen fifth, another 8.7 seconds in arrears.

The day went well from the outset for Atkinson. After the morning run of three stages, the Gold Coast driver was 11.2 seconds behind Latvala and had set himself up for a good showing.

The afternoon saw a repeat of those stages with Atkinson third fastest on each. He narrowly averted disaster when he hit a huge rock on SS5 with his front right wheel. He completed the stage with a flattened rim, but the tyre stayed up and his time loss was minimal. If he’d hit the rock head on, Atkinson said the car “would have been totalled”.

The incident demonstrated how disaster can live just around every corner in the Mexico rally.

While Atkinson survived the forest roads, a mistake on the final stage, the second run around the Super Special, cost him a vital five seconds, the most he had conceded all day to Latvala or Loeb.

“It was my mistake to spin in the final stage, and giving a few seconds away to these guys isn’t the smartest, but that’s how it goes,” Atkinson said.

“Today has not been bad for us and we’re in a good position to push hard tomorrow.

“We’ll have to see whether we can close the gap to Sebastien and Jari-Matti, but it won’t be easy.

“And I have Petter (Solberg) and Hirvonen behind, so we will push hard as always and see what happens.”

Rally Mexico continues across the weekend. Leg Two action sees another eight stages with the event finishing early Monday morning Australian time (5am Sydney) after a further four stages.

Results after day one – Rally Mexico
1. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, 1h 23m 38.6s
2. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, +9.6s (diff. to 1st)
3. Atkinson / Prevot, Subaru Impreza WRC2007, +22.4s
4. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2007, +1m 01.9s
5. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 10.6s
6. Solberg / Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 43.6s
7. Wilson / Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 52.9s
8. Villagra / Perez Companc, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +5m 30.0s
9. Trivino / Salom, Peugeot 206 WRC, +8m 18.6s
10. Ogier / Ingrassia, Citroen C2 S1600, +9m 13.0s
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