Atkinson retakes championship third after pivotal podium in Finland
The Subaru World Rally Team entry of Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot clinched a crucial third place on Rally Finland with a resolute fight-back after they slipped to ninth position on the opening day. The result marks the first points-score for the duo in the new Impreza WRC2008, and moves them back up into third position in the drivers’ championship.

The final day of Rally Finland was a short, sharp affair that consisted of only three stages, as opposed to the eleven and ten run on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Today’s gravel stages were just as loose and slippery, keeping yesterday’s battles alive as crews pushed hard in front of tens of thousands of rally-crazed Finnish fans. The second of the morning’s stages was an entirely new challenge, placing a greater emphasis on each crew’s confidence in their pacenotes, and the last stage was the most spectacular of the event with a perilous succession of high-speed jumps, ensuring Sunday was no leisurely drive to the finish of the aptly-named Great Race.

“We used Greece and Turkey as part of extended test programme, so this is the first event in which we’ve really focussed on our performance on gravel” said David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally Team technical director. “It’s been our first chance to really see how the car performs on gravel and how the work done in testing translates to a rally, and it is clear we’ve made good progress. Chris did a great job, and we learned a lot that we will take into New Zealand in particular, as the next gravel rally, as we continue the steep part of the learning curve that we are currently in.”

Having doggedly worked himself into third place by a gap of just one second yesterday, the Australian and Citroen’s Dani Sordo started this morning prepared for a flat out battle for the podium. After the first and longest stage however, Atkinson and Prévot’s performance proved decisive as the duo stretched the gap to a comfortable 13 seconds; sufficient to dampen the ferocity of Sordo’s attack.

On the event that every rally driver most craves success on, Atkinson went one better than his fourth position last year by clinching his fifth podium of the 2008 season, and importantly his first in the Subaru Impreza WRC2008 on its third rally. In a crucial event for their championship campaign, he and Prévot’s impressive performance this weekend was sufficient to propel them back to third position overall in the drivers’ championship.

The event is notoriously difficult for non-Nordic drivers, as the results clearly demonstrate. The event has been unrelentingly dominated by Finns for the last 57 years, making Atkinson’s podium on his fourth attempt at the event, the second alongside Prévot, even more satisfying.

“To finish on the podium in Finland is fantastic, it’s one of those rallies that you really, really want to do well on and it’s great to add it to the CV” said Chris Atkinson. “The guys did a fantastic job, the car was great and I was just able to keep pushing hard. I really want to thank everybody in the team, it’s just really cool to be here on the podium the first time in Finland with the new car, and of course it’s great to be back in third in the championship. It’s been a great weekend, really good.”

“The trophy from this is definitely one to keep!” added Stéphane Prévot. “It’s such a fantastic result because it’s such a fast and difficult rally – one that everyone wants to win. I remember coming here as a spectator when I was 15 and watching people like Vatanen and Alen. It was just fantastic, and since then it’s always been a special place to me, which all just makes this podium even better.”

Meanwhile Petter Solberg set about taking the fight to his elder brother just ahead of him in fifth position. While the gap diminished with each passing stage, it proved a task too far for Hollywood and co-driver Phil Mills, who came home in sixth position to collect their third haul of points from three rallies in the Impreza WRC2008.

“Ok, it’s been a tough weekend but we’re sixth and that’s how it is” said Petter Solberg. “When everything was working it felt very good, but I lost the feeling at times yesterday and Friday. Today was much better, but by then we’d lost too much time to be able to climb back up any higher. We have a week until Germany for the team to keep working on the car, and we’ll see what we can do there, the first time on tarmac.”

Retaining sixth position in the drivers’ championship, the manufacturer points they earned keep the Subaru World Rally Team a comfortable third overall in the manufacturers’ championship after nine rounds of 16 in the 2008 World Rally Championship.

Next event
The World Rally Championship returns to asphalt for Rallye Deutschland, 15-17 August, for the first time since the season opener in Monte Carlo. The tarmac debut for the new Impreza WRC2008, it is far from being a conventional sealed-surface event. Providing a wide variety of routes and surfaces from fast and narrow vineyard roads to the notoriously rough concrete tracks of the Baumholder military ranges, the routes are singularly unforgiving. The pre-event test in July was the first time Solberg and Atkinson have driven the new Impreza on tarmac, and its progress in Germany will be closely watched.

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 2h54m05.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +9.0s
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot +3m17.0s
4. D Sordo/M Marti +3m30.9s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud +3m57.7s
6. P Solberg/P Mills +4m04.1s
7. M Rantanen/J Löengren +6m11.1s
8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +8m18.7s

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