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Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson is gearing up for a top result in Rally Japan this weekend, looking to shore up his World Rally Championship ranking with just two events remaining in the 2008 season.

Atkinson currently sits in fourth place on the points table after 13 rounds. But he struggled for outright speed in his new Impreza WRC2008 in the two recent tarmac tests in Spain and Corsica, and his buffer over his closest rivals has been significantly reduced.

He is now just three points clear of Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala, and five ahead of his Subaru team-mate, Petter Solberg.

But with the championship heading back on to gravel, and to a country where he first tasted international success, the Gold Coast driver is hopeful of a positive end to the year.

“We know how important it is to Subaru to do well in Japan,” Atkinson said. “And I’ve had some good results here too, achieving my first WRC podium in the event back in 2005, so I’m really looking forward to the weekend.

“Subaru’s fan base over here is huge and everyone wants to deliver for them.”

The course is completely new this year, which will create an additional element of the unknown for all.

“Though the stages are new and the rally has moved to Sapporo, experience shows that I like the narrow high speed stages of Japan, which are similar to Finland where I scored my last podium this year,” Atkinson said. “I also know that we can perform better when the average speed is faster.”

“All season I’ve been second, third or fourth in the Championship, so I don’t want to go any lower, that’s for sure.”

Subaru World Rally Team operations director, Paul Howarth, says while the roads used will be different this year, many things about Rally Japan will stay the same.

“It’ll be as tricky as any Rally Japan, especially the second passes of the stages where it’ll get very rutted,” Howarth said.

“The ruts are where you can really make or lose time. If you’ve got a lot of confidence and can really commit and hold the line, then you’ll be very fast.

“We haven’t driven in these wet conditions on gravel with a low ambient and using Pirelli’s Scorpion tyre since Rally Argentina earlier this year, and there is a championship fight on as well which could be decided in Japan, so it’ll be a very challenging event.

“We’re also going to be running in the dark, so it’s the first time since GB last year that the drivers will have done so. That’ll throw up some challenges as the second passes of stages are those that will be dark, so you’ll have the tricky, rutted conditions and the darkness combined,” he added.

Rally Japan consists of 29 stages, 11 of which are spectator-focused in the form of the Sapporo, Imeru and Nidom tests.

The route totals 344.72 kilometres of competition to the west of Sapporo on day one into the Yubari and Mikasa regions, and to the south towards Chitose and Tomakomai for days two and three.

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