CHRIS ATKINSON IN PROFILE
RESIDES: Gold Coast, Queensland AUSTRALIA
YEARS IN RALLYING: 4
FIRST CAR: 1971 Toyota Corolla
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT IN RALLYING:Finishing fifth outright and winning Group N in my first attempt at Telstra Rally Australia.
LEAST MEMORABLE MOMENT IN RALLYING: Crossing the line first at the opening round of the 2004 Australian Championship only to be excluded due to a non-performance enhancing part.
BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON CAREER: Father – John, Ed Ordynski, Simon Evans
INTERESTS AWAY FROM RALLYING: Running, training at the gym and preparing for the next rally
CHRIS, THE GROWING YEARS
Chris was born in Bega, New South Wales spending much of his early years watching his father, John compete in the New South Wales Rally Championship. Throughout his rallying days John claimed a number of Championships including twoNew South Wales crowns.
As a kid Chris played almost every competitive sport available from soccer to running to rugby and tennis before finding the need for speed on a motocross bike. Throughout his teenage years Chris “tore up the dirt track” on two wheels before several injuries had his parents ensure his focus returned to his schoolwork.
In 1997 Chris was awarded an academic scholarship to Bond
University, completing a commerce degree, majoring in finance and accounting he worked as a stock broker on finishing his degree, before turning his focus to a career in rallying..
FINDING THE NEED FOR SPEED
Chris’ brother Ben began rallying in the late nineties and after two years of watching on the sidelines Chris decided to give co-driving with his brother a shot.
After only a couple of events in the co-drivers seat Chris traded places with his brother. He made his rally debut aboard a 1971 Toyota Corolla in the final round of the 2000 Queensland Rally Championship for what was planned to be for only one rally but has turned into a long-term agreement between the brothers.
The first time Atkinson drove a fully prepared rally car was at the Rick Bates rally school with Bates in the co-driver seat. Bates was extremely impressed and Atkinson showed composure and skill of an extremely experienced rally driver.
In only his first major rally and with less than 80km of competition under his belt, Chris achieved an incredible 1st in Class and 3rd outright in round 1 of the 2001 Queensland Rally Championship. This led to the decision to compete in the Australian Rally Championship, despite it being Chris’ first year in the sport.
Advice on the importance of learning pace notes from former Australian Champion Ed Ordynski was a major factor in taking this big leap. Chris’ results in his first year of rallying turned more than a few heads. He was inside the top 10 in Group N and well inside the outright top 20 at every round of the ARC in which he competed.
Chris also set stage times as high as fifth outright in his debut season, indicating that he had tremendous potential considering his age and experience.
At the 2002 Rally of Canberra, a round of the Asia Pacific Championship, Chris and co-driver Ben stunned the rallying community climbing as high as fourth outright before mechanical failure forced them out of the event on the final day. This was against some of the best drivers from across New Zealand, Asia and Australia.
Throughout the year they became a serious contender in the Australian Rally Championship and proved it by setting second-fastest stage times on two occasions and finishing in the top 10 on numerous occasions. They achieved this despite campaigning as a privateer entry and competing against drivers with years of experience, in possibly the most competitive Australian Rally Championship ever. In the end the Atkinson boys finished ninth outright and was crowned Privateer Champion.
It was this result that encouraged the Suzuki factory team to test Chris for the future commitments in Asia and Europe.
Despite only rallying for two years, Chris was given the opportunity to drive a super 1600 car (front-wheel drive 1.6L group A, as driven in the Junior World Rally Championship) for the SWT with Suzuki Sport team in the 2003 Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
The faith team principal and famous Japanese driver Monster Tajima put in this young Australian driver was rewarded with a class win in the opening round of the championship in Canberra.
Drama struck in the following round in New Zealand after Chris showed impressive car speed but ran off the road and got bogged on the opening day. He did recover to finish second in the Super 1600 class on the second leg and won the final leg of the rally in the class.
He went on to finish second in class at the Rally of Hokkaido in Japan before winning his class in the last two rounds in Thailand and India to be crowned Asia Pacific Super 1600 Champion. Amazingly he was also fifth outright in the championship defeating many higher-powered 4wd turbo cars.
In 2004 Atkinson was the shining light on the Australian rally scene dominating the Australian Championship winning an amazing three rounds from the six events. With these victories he also set the fastest stage time on nearly double the number of occasions to his nearest rival.
His success during the year wasn’t only limited to the domestic competition going on to successfully defend his Asia Pacific Super 1600 Championship. He also stunned the world’s best junior and production car drivers in the four rounds of the World Championship that he competed in throughout New Zealand, Finland, Japan and Western Australia.
When he traveled to compete in the Finland round of the Championship during August he took the challenge to the best Group N rally competitors in the world and set stage times well beyond any expectations.
Atkinson rose to the top of the world again in September when he competed in Rally Japan aboard a two-wheel drive normally aspirated Suzuki. His performance was simply breathtaking finishing 12th outright against the highest powered four wheel drive turbo powered rally cars in the world, this result also earned him his maiden Junior World Championship round win.
Aiming to finish the year off on a high Atkinson headed to the first Australian round of the World Championship of his career in Perth, Western Australia recently.
It was at this event where the maturity, determination and outright speed of Atkinson shone brightest. Forced to overcome adversity when he suffered numerous problems throughout the event that hampered his performance, and could well have ended a lesser determined driver’s event, Atkinson was simply brilliant going on to finish fifth outright and win the Group N category.
His domination of the Group N category was evident in the number of fastest stage times claiming 9 wins of the 25 stages held in the event, this number was six more than his nearest competitor was able to achieve.
It was this performance was the icing on the cake for 2004 and rewarded Chris with an opportunity to compete at the highest level of rallying in the world.