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Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, has experienced a day he’d rather forget on the opening leg of Rally New Zealand.

Overnight rain left the roads extremely wet and muddy, making life difficult for all drivers, but Atkinson and his fellow Subaru World Rally Team driver, Petter Solberg, experienced more trouble than most.

Both suffered from a lack of grip on the opening two stages and were further hindered by a choice of tyres. To make matters even worse, Atkinson had a small spin early in the opening stage, so as the Queenslander headed back for the lunchtime service he was in tenth place, already two minutes 41.2 seconds behind the leader Marcus Gronholm.

“It wasn’t the best start to Rally New Zealand for us unfortunately,” Atkinson said at the service break.

“While we had a small spin on the first stage, there was no damage to the car, and the time would have been slow anyway. We need better grip. We’re lacking confidence in the handling, which means we just couldn’t push as you need to.”

The service crews reverted to a set-up similar to what the team had used in Turkey in the wet. While the performance of the Impreza WRC2006 improved in the afternoon, both cars continued to drop time to the top three.

Atkinson experienced further drama on the way back to the service park after SS4 when an electrical problem drained the power from the battery. He and co-driver Glenn Macneall managed to restart the car using the battery from the portable wheel nut gun in the car’s tool kit before making the nervous trip back for the evening action.

On the day’s final stage, a short sprint around the Mystery Creek Super Special, Atkinson finally found some joy in the day by finishing the stage second fastest, just four tenths of a second behind Gronholm.

But the Ford driver has a handy advantage of 31.2 seconds over his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, with Daniel Sordo rounding out the top three, one minute 16.2 seconds off the pace.

Solberg is sixth, one minute 48.3 seconds from the lead, with Atkinson ninth three minutes 48.8 seconds behind.

"We just haven’t had the speed today, for whatever reason," Atkinson said. "We’re working on that, but I don’t feel confident to push, so I’m not taking any risks and just making sure I get through the stages."

"The car felt better in the afternoon but the conditions were very different, so it was difficult to compare and get any useful information."

"For tomorrow a lot will depend on the weather and our road position; if it’s dry and we’re first on the road then it’ll be very tough, if it’s wet then it should be better."

"We’ve given away a lot of time today, but we’ll do all we can to improve our position tomorrow."

Results – End Leg One – Rally New Zealand

1, GRÖNHOLM, Ford, 01:31:58.0,
2, HIRVONEN, Ford, 01:32:29.2, +31.2
3, SORDO, Citroen, 01:33:14.2, +01:16.2
4, STOHL, Peugeot, 01:33:16.4, +01:18.4
5, PONS, Citroen, 01:33:40.5, +01:42.5
6, SOLBERG, Subaru, 01:33:46.3, +01:48.3
7, SOLBERG, Peugeot, 01:34:41.5, +02:43.5
8, PEREZ COMPANC, Ford, 01:35:21.8, +03:23.8
9, ATKINSON, Subaru, 01:35:46.8, +3:48.8

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