Over the past two years the doomsayers have been quick to write off Chris Atkinson as a World Rally Championship wannabe – a driver who has the speed, but one who hasn’t delivered the goods.

Look at the drivers, they say, who can’t get a factory drive: Colin McRae, Toni Gardemeister, Francois Duval, Gigi Galli, Roman Kresta, Harri Rovanpera, Xavier Pons. The list goes on.

Many in Australia have expressed similar words. In their minds, Atkinson is no more talented than Simon Evans, Cody Crocker, Dean Herridge or Scott Pedder, and they may be right.

But that’s all beside the point, and that Chris has got his chance in the WRC in the factory Subaru team is something that we should all be proud and passionate about.

He’s now contested 32 WRC rounds as team-mate to Petter Solberg, and along the way has been the fastest on 23 special stages, which in itself is an amazing effort for a guy who hasn’t always received the amount of testing that a drive in a factory outfit warrants.

He took a career-best third place in the 2005 Rally of Japan and has led events on several occasions, but his career rise evened out last year when the 2006 Impreza WRC was not up to scratch on a world level.

For 2007 he has high expectations for himself, as does his team team, and with the dumping of Stephane Sarrazin from the SWRT outfit, at Monte Carlo Chris found himself in a 2006-spec Impreza for the first time on an asphalt rally.

Monte is widely considered to be the most difficult tarmac rally in the championship, and although this year there was a severe lack of ice and snow, it is still an event that needs to be taken seriously.

On BF Goodrich tyres for the first time, Atkinson stunned the opposition by winning the longest stage of the rally not once, but twice, defeating the likes of Loeb, Sordo, Gronholm, and even his team-mate Solberg.

Winning stages on asphalt, and at Monte Carlo, surely shows people once and for all that Atkinson is the real deal. His speed is unquestioned, his experience is increasing by the day, and with a car that can consistently produce the goods, surely he must now be considered as a serious threat in the WRC.

It’s been a tough drive, but Chris Atkinson is now nearing the top, on the road to the Holy Grail.

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