WRC Team MINI Portugal newbie Chris Atkinson previews Wales Rally GB, the tenth round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship...
Yep, that's right it's Atko here – and I'll be WRC Team MINI Portugal's 'host' for Rally GB. I've been round the world back now three times in the last month, but that isn't the only reason my head's spinning. It was under a month ago that I found out I was going to be catapulted back into the WRC full time for the remainder of 2012 in a MINI Countryman John Cooper Works WRC.
I'll do my best in these columns for WRGB to answer some of questions that have been put to me over the past few weeks and I figure a good place to start is at the beginning. I first met the guys at Motorsport Italia at Rallye Deutschland last year, with one key exception – Richard 'Tomo' Thompson, now their chief engineer, was my engineer for my WRC works programme in 2006/07. Seemed like a nice team, good people, but I couldn't ever have predicted what would happen under one year on!
I followed the team growing from the start of this year when they first became work-supported and started working directly with the factory. The changes were huge and came event-on-event, which also meant that along with their technical capabilities, the opportunities that the team could provide a driver ramped up. All that meant that by the time we spoke pre-Germany about my joining the team for the rest of the season, I jumped at the chance.
The MINI's a great car and I also love the process of feeding back to the team about how I think the MINI could be best improved and taking a longer-term view to progress and development. In such a close team, it's easy to all become quite tight quite quickly and the enthusiasm for the project and aim always to be the best they can be immediately gave me a feeling that this was somewhere Stéphane [Prevot – my co-driver] and I would fit in.
Now it's time for Wales Rally GB, my second rally with WRC Team MINI Portugal. I've competed here four times before, my best result to date was sixth overall, but I really enjoy these roads when the conditions are good, which means no rain!
We have done the event once before at this earlier time of year - as opposed to November - and the roads are really fast and high grip. It's actually very tough on tyres. Gravel rallies are for sure my background and they have been the source of my best results, so I can't wait to get back in the MINI and tackle my first gravel stages in anger.
I have been training quite hard for Wales Rally GB back home on the Gold Coast for the past two weeks... I've been trying to mix up gym, cycling (road bike) and running! On Thursday before I left Australia I did 60km on the bike, 5km run, 40 minutes gym... then a ducked into the sauna and took a swim for recovery. I know it sounds hard but I feel really good after that. I even sneaked in a 50km bike ride today to try and fight off my jetlag.
I do cycling training with a few of the V8 Supercar drivers (Australia Touring Car Series) and also a couple of professional cyclists. It's a good group of guys and everyone is always pushing each other. I wish I could train more, but its great to spend time with my wife and daughter, especially when I am travelling so much at the moment. I also take my daughter Ayva swimming most days. She loves the water and that is always a bit of a workout chasing her around and throwing her in the pool.
It's amazing to be back in the WRC, especially with such a cool team and such a fantastic brand which makes it even more fun. In Germany - for me - I didn't rush my speed. I knew we could get a good result if we were patient, which is hard for any driver to do! But fortunately the car was really nice to drive, so I could just enjoy and finishing fifth was amazing for us.
Tomorrow [Sunday] and Monday we'll test to prepare for Wales Rally GB and I can't wait to get back in the MINI and try it on gravel.
I'll be back with more updates during the rally week. Stay tuned'