Ex-World Rally Championship regular Chris Atkinson will be driving MINI’s Uber-Star racecar at the next round of the Australian MINI Challenge, the inaugural Townsville race, on 10â€“12 July.
Forming part of the support program for the V8 Supercars, the Townsville round will be taking place on a new 2.87km street circuit. The course looks to have a good mix of high speed and flowing corners, the latter will suit the MINIs very well.
The Townsville round will also see another first for the MINI Challengeâ€”an optional twin driver format. The format will introduce a 60 second minimum compulsory pit-stop for a driver change. You can read more about that here.
Atkinson has been at a bit of a loose end this year since the demise of the Subaru World Rally Team. He has a role with the CitrÃ¶en Junior Team, but that doesn’t provide the regular action a man of his talent and ability craves, so he is keen to trade the dirt for some closed circuit action.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about MINI Challenge and a lot about the new Townsville circuit, so when the chance came up to try them both out I didnâ€™t hesitate,” he told MINI Challenge organisers.
He is not daunted by the change of technology either, “if anything my 4WD experience will help in the front wheel drive MINI car,” Atkinson believes, “sometimes there are a few parallels between 4WD and front wheel drive. Iâ€™ll have that on my side anyway and hopefully that compensates for my lack of consistent road racing experience.”
Atkinson has driven just two competitive closed circuit events, two very admirable enduro races, the NÃ¼rburgring 24 hour and the Bathurst 12 hour.
Stay tuned to AUSmotive for more MINI Challenge news as it comes to hand. If you missed the action form the last round at Symmons Plains, you can catch up with the TV highlights here.
Atkinson Rallies to Townsville MINI Challenge Opportunity
World-renowned Australian Rally star Chris Atkinson will saddle up in a John Cooper Works MINI Racecar at the third round of the 2009 MINI Challenge in three weeks time at the brand new Townsville layout.
â€œIâ€™m really excited about it,â€ says the man who is one of the international rally worldâ€™s hottest properties and shares his time between home bases in the Gold Coast and Monaco, â€œIâ€™ve driven a MINI once before, but never in a race situation.â€
28-year-old Atkinson shot to prominence after signing with the 2005 Subaru WRC factory team when they were impressed by his sensational debut in a lower category in the Australian leg of the 2004 Championship in his privately funded Group N Subaru Impreza.
Since then heâ€™s become a high profile and respected member of the elite family of Rally and will return to Europe for competition as early as a day or two after the Townsville event.
â€œIâ€™ve been hearing a lot about MINI Challenge and a lot about the new Townsville circuit,â€ he conceded over the phone today, â€œso when the chance came up to try them both out I didnâ€™t hesitate.â€
Atkinson will drive the â€œUber Starâ€ MINI Challenge car (prepared by the Stillwell MINI Garage team) at Townsville where the new twin-driver format will make its debut.
In 2008 Atkinson enjoyed his best season on the WRC (World Rally Championship) to date with a spectacular 5th overall and runner up spots at the Corona Rally in Mexico and Rally Argentina.
Since debuting in 2004 Chris has amassed six podium finishes â€“ five of which he mastered last year!
He is the only Australian, in the 36-year history of the FIA World Rally Championship, to secure a full time manufacturerâ€™s drive.
His immediate â€œChallengeâ€ now is to tackle the might of the 2009 MINI Challenge field at Townsville on July 10-12, 2009.
â€œIâ€™ve probably got the best round to come in without any MINI experience,â€ he explains, â€œat least weâ€™ll all be new to the track there. Nobody has home track experience.â€
Atkinsonâ€™s prowess on dirt and tarmac (often combined) is well documented, but his road racing experience is limited to only two events â€“ one at the Nurbugring 24 Hour in Germany and the Bathurst 12 Hour here in Australia.
â€œI think if anything my 4WD experience will help in the front wheel drive MINI car,â€ Atkinson believes, â€œsometimes there are a few parallels between 4WD and front wheel drive. Iâ€™ll have that on my side anyway and hopefully that compensates for my lack of consistent road racing experience.â€
Chris Atkinson will be the third high profile sporting identity (in addition to AFL personality Sam Newman and Winter Olympics Gold Medallist Steven Bradbury) to take â€œthe MINI Challengeâ€ and drive the UBER Star car as a bonafide contender at the inaugural Townsville event on July 10-12, 2009.