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Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has produced a strong drive under enormous pressure to finish Rally New Zealand in fourth place.

In an absorbing battle at the very front of the field, Marcus Gronholm edged out Sebastien Loeb to take outright honours by just 0.3 seconds, the closest result ever in a World Rally Championship event. Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the podium positions, finishing one minute 42.8 seconds behind the leader.

Atkinson was fourth after the opening day on Friday but slipped to fifth at the end of Saturday. Today he pushed back ahead of Jari Latvala on the penultimate stage after chipping away at the Finns overnight 10.5 second lead across the first five stages of the day.

It was another display of maturity by the Queensland driver that continues to impress rally watchers as the second half of the season unfolds.

The Impreza WRC2007 driver scored five points for his fourth placing to move to a total of 25 for the season, easily eclipsing his tallies in each of his first two seasons in the World Rally Championship.

Atkinson has now collected three fourths for the season, including two from his last three starts. He is in seventh place on 25 points in the Championship.

Gronholm sits on top of the WRC points table on 90 points, with Loeb second on 80 and Hirvonen third on 69 points.

"That was a great fight for fourth, and I’m very happy that we came out on top,” Atkinson said.

“It’s great for the guys in the team too, and it shows we’re getting closer all the time. It would have been nice to be on the podium, and hopefully that’s not far away.”

“I think we’ve had enough fourths now - we want some thirds, seconds and firsts - so we’ve still got to keep working.”

“Overall it’s been a pretty good rally. We’ve battled hard all weekend, tried to fight when we could and be cautious when things haven’t worked so well. We did our best and that’s all I can do. It’s back to asphalt next, and I’m certainly looking forward to that.”

Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor, saw more positives for his team from New Zealand.

“Of course we won’t be fully satisfied until we’re fighting at the top of the podium, but we’re confident that the way the car is working now we’ll soon be able to do that,” Taylor said.

“The pace that Chris has been able to show today has been very encouraging, and we’re delighted that he’s been able to fight so hard and get the fourth place.”

“His performance on SS17 was particularly impressive. To finish right behind Gronholm and Loeb – who were both going absolutely flat-out – just goes to show how close we are.”

The next round of the championship is in Spain from October 5-7, giving Atkinson a well earned break after the hectic schedule of the past three rounds.

Final Results – Rally New Zealand

1, GRÖNHOLM, Ford, 03:52:53.9
2, LOEB, Citroën, 03:52:54.2, +00.3
3, HIRVONEN, Ford, 03:54:36.7, +01:42.8
4, ATKINSON, Subaru, 03:55:26.2, +02:32.3
5, LATVALA, Ford, 03:55:30.8, +02:36.9
6, SORDO, Citroën, 03:56:35.9, +03:42.0
7, SOLBERG, Subaru, 03:56:48.6, +03:54.7
8, AAVA, Mitsubishi, 04:02:10.2, +09:16.3
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