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Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, has made an encouraging start to the Rallye of France in Corsica, sitting in sixth place at the end of the first day.

While World Champion, Sebastien Loeb, set the pace, Atkinson was involved in an epic three-way battle for fourth place with his Subaru team-mate, Petter Solberg, and Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala.

Subaru’s new Impreza WRC2008, on only its third tarmac rally, performed well on Corsica’s bumpy, narrow and incredibly twisty stages. Atkinson was never out of the top six, and finished the day just 3.9 seconds behind fourth placed Solberg.

On a cloudless day with temperatures around 24ºC, the three drivers continually swapped positions over the six asphalt stages that totalled nearly 120 competitive kilometres.

“We were in a close battle with Petter and Jari-Matti today, and considering we’re in the same car as Petter and he’s won this rally before, I can’t complain,” the Gold Coast driver said.

“I think the set-up works okay and we had some good stages, but the last stage wasn’t so good. We lost some time at the end of the stage where something changed. I was all over the road.

“At one stage we were up to fourth, then with the problem at the end with not being able to carry the speed, we dropped back to sixth. It’s good to be able to fight though, and for sure it makes it more interesting during the day, but we want to be fighting for first,” he added.

After the Imprezas struggled for speed last week in Spain, SWRT Principal, David Richards, was happy with the first day in Corsica.

“It’s been an encouraging day of clear steady progress and all of our drivers are in good positions to capitalise on their performance over the next couple of days,” Richards said.

“We came here with the same set-up as we finished Spain, and as our drivers cover more distance on tarmac with this car, so we are able to optimise the set-up in these conditions.”

At the front of the field, Loeb was again the dominant driver, winning all six stages in his Citroen C4. The Frenchman has established a lead of 32.3 seconds over the Ford Focus of Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen.

Hirvonen’s French team-mate, Francois Duval, is in third place, a further 1.7 seconds back, with a 38 second buffer over Solberg, Latvala and Atkinson in fourth, fifth and sixth places.

Day two of the rally takes competitors through a further six stages to the north and north east of Ajaccio. With two passes each of three individual tests, it is the longest day of the event at 122.84 competitive kilometres.

The day’s competition is classically Corsican – a combination of narrow, fast, abrasive and downhill sections that will be incredibly tricky if it rains.
 
After Day 1 - Rallye of France

1. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 1h09m24.3s
2. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +32.3s (diff. to 1st)
3. Duval / Pivato, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +34.0s
4. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m11.5s
5. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m12.7s
6. Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m15.4s
7. Gardemeister / Tuominin, Suzuki SX4 WRC, +3m16.0s
8. Mikkelsen / Floene, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +3m18.5s
9. Tirabassi / Gordon, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +3m21.4s
10. Aava / Sikk, Citroen C4, WRC, +3m23.0s
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