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World-renowned Australian Rally star Chris Atkinson will saddle up in a John Cooper Works MINI Racecar at the third round of the 2009 MINI Challenge in three weeks time at the brand new Townsville layout.

“I’m really excited about it,” says the man who is one of the international rally world’s hottest properties and shares his time between home bases in the Gold Coast and Monaco, “I’ve driven a MINI once before, but never in a race situation.”

28-year-old Atkinson shot to prominence after signing with the 2005 Subaru WRC factory team when they were impressed by his sensational debut in a lower category in the Australian leg of the 2004 Championship in his privately funded Group N Subaru Impreza.

Since then he’s become a high profile and respected member of the elite family of Rally and will return to Europe for competition as early as a day or two after the Townsville event.

“I’ve been hearing a lot about MINI Challenge and a lot about the new Townsville circuit,” he conceded over the phone today, “so when the chance came up to try them both out I didn’t hesitate.”

Atkinson will drive the “Uber Star” MINI Challenge car (prepared by the Stillwell MINI Garage team) at Townsville where the new twin-driver format will make its debut.

In 2008 Atkinson enjoyed his best season on the WRC (World Rally Championship) to date with a spectacular 5th overall and runner up spots at the Corona Rally in Mexico and Rally Argentina.

Since debuting in 2004 Chris has amassed six podium finishes – five of which he mastered last year!

He is the only Australian, in the 36-year history of the FIA World Rally Championship, to secure a full time manufacturer’s drive.

His immediate “Challenge” now is to tackle the might of the 2009 MINI Challenge field at Townsville on July 10-12, 2009.  

“I’ve probably got the best round to come in without any MINI experience,” he explains, “at least we’ll all be new to the track there. Nobody has home track experience.”

Atkinson’s prowess on dirt and tarmac (often combined) is well documented, but his road racing experience is limited to only two events – one at the Nurbugring 24 Hour in Germany and the Bathurst 12 Hour here in Australia.

“I think if anything my 4WD experience will help in the front wheel drive MINI car,” Atkinson believes, “sometimes there are a few parallels between 4WD and front wheel drive. I’ll have that on my side anyway and hopefully that compensates for my lack of consistent road racing experience.”

Chris Atkinson will be the third high profile sporting identity (in addition to AFL personality Sam Newman and Winter Olympics Gold Medallist Steven Bradbury) to take “the MINI Challenge” and drive the UBER Star car as a bonafide contender at the inaugural Townsville event on July 10-12, 2009.

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