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Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, is back in action this weekend when the World Rally Championship resumes with Rally Finland after an eight week break.

The gritty Queenslander will be hoping for a strong start to the second half of the season when he tackles the famous Scandinavian roads in his Subaru Impreza WRC2007.

Atkinson and the Subaru World Rally Team have worked hard in the break to get a greater consistency of performance from the car. In the opening half of the season, Atkinson and teammate Petter Solberg set some quick stage times, but could not consistently produce the necessary speed to challenge the likes of 2007 championship leader Marcus Gronholm and defending WRC champion Sebastian Loeb for outright honours.

This will be Atkinson’s fourth Rally Finland, his first with Stephane Prevot as his co-driver, and the Australian is aiming to use the experience gained since 2004 to secure a solid points finish. With 28 World Rally Cars entered, including eight driven by local Finns, the battle for a top eight result will be tough.

Atkinson currently sits in seventh place on the WRC points table, having collected a total of 15 points in five of the eight events contested so far. While he looks certain this year to better the 20 points collected from the whole of last season, the 27-year-old desperately wants to be in a position where he can challenge for the podium in the final eight rounds.

“Over the summer everybody in the team has been working hard and a lot of effort and hours have been put into improving the car,” Atkinson said.

“I hope things work well when we get to Finland and we can start to repay all the effort with a good result.”

“Rally Finland is a great event and certainly one of the most challenging rallies of the year.”

“The stages are very fast and you have to put a lot of effort into your pace notes, but they are just the type of roads that I like and over the last couple of years my speed there has been good.”

Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director, is hoping the hard work over the past two months pays off for Atkinson, Solberg, and their new team mate Xavier Pons.

“In Finland we want to see a clear improvement in the team performance, and also that the drivers are able to get a consistent feel from the car and really exploit its potential.”

“We saw in Greece that the Impreza WRC2007 had good pace in certain circumstances and since then we’ve been focusing on improving its drivability and the consistency of its performance.”

“Over the summer break we have done a lot of work on the car which has been very beneficial and we’ve learned a lot. We have tested for a total of 10 days in Wales, Germany and Finland, and have also spent a considerable amount of time rig testing and gathering data at a track here in the UK.”

“Our efforts have been focused on steering, dampers and differentials, particularly in the analysis and measurement of some of the chassis and handling issues that affected the car earlier in the year. We have also been preparing for the asphalt rallies that make up 50 per cent of the second half of the season.”

Finland is one of the classic events in the WRC schedule. It’s a high-speed charge along smooth, flowing gravel tracks through pine and spruce forests and past the thousands of lakes which are scattered through the area.

On some of the flat-out Finnish tracks, World Rally Cars hit 200kph, while the average speed for the event is about 120kph, making this the fastest event on the calendar.

Although the special stages are wide by WRC standards, the presence of trees and large rocks means there is little room for error. It is essential to have a fast, consistent, stable car which can ride the crests and jumps at high speeds.

This year’s event will test the concentration of the crews, because a total of 46 per cent of the rally route is new. That will level the playing field, because the more seasoned drivers won’t be able to rely purely on experience.

The event commences at 2000hrs on Thursday evening (3am Friday AEST) with a 2.06km SuperSpecial based inside the horse trotting track at Killeri. In total there will be 23 timed sections, with a combined competitive distance of 360.34km.
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