by Rob Wilkins.

Chris Atkinson blasted onto the WRC scene last year and having joined Subaru for 2005, the Australian is already turning heads.

His performance in Sweden, his first with the Banbury based squad, was impressive to say the least - for not only was it's his first outing in a World Rally car, but it was also his first time on snow. This guy is going to be one to watch over the next few seasons, and will surely give Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb a few sleepless nights as he gains in years.

Here speaking to Crash.net Radio, he talks about that display in Sweden and looks ahead to the Rally Mexico, in two weeks time...

Q:
Chris, first up, congratulations. I think you impressed most people in the WRC - if not all - in Sweden. You must be pleased?

Chris Atkinson:
Yeah. I think we were pretty happy with the result - obviously there were a few mistakes. But to be able to do reasonably good times, first time in the car and first time on the snow makes us pretty happy. Obviously it was a big learning experience but we tried to make the most of it and do all the stages as well.

Q:
Team boss David Lapworth said at the end of leg 2, and I quote: you were 'the star of the rally'. Does a comment like that help you, do you think or does it just add to the pressure?

CA:
Obviously it is a good to have the support of people like David. That is really, really nice and that shows we are doing a good job. But that is obviously just one rally out of the 15 we are doing, so there's a long way to go and we are not getting too excited yet. We have got a lot to learn and we will take one rally at a time.

Q:
How did you get on with the Impreza during your debut in it?

CA:
Fantastic - obviously the car had no problems through the event, that was brilliant and everything worked really well. It was more down to me finding the limits of the car and the surface - and that's where the mistakes came from. So it was a pretty awesome car to drive and really good fun. I have never looked so forward to doing a stage as I did in this car. I wish I could race everyday.

Q:
Now obviously it was your first time on snow, did it take you long to get use to that?

CA:
A little bit, but I think the bigger difficult was learning to adapt to a WRC car. I think the surface, although it was difficult, being a similar surface to a gravel surface, than say tarmac, its not a big step and I was more adapting to the car and the car speed rather than the surface. So it was pretty exciting to drive on the snow - but you know what grip you have got and although it was tricky conditions, it wasn't overly tricky and it was good fun.

Q:
You looked like you would finish in the top ten - if not score a point - until you're off in SS18, with only two more tests to go. Was your overall classification - 19th - a sore point?

CA:
I didn't really care about that so much and the fact we were running I think ninth or eighth or so on, was not a big issue for us. Our targets were to improve each day and see if we could be on the pace at the end of the day for next year - to come back and have a good result. So it didn't really bother me losing out on a world championship point because that wasn't our aim going there. Our aim was to learn and improve for the future. I think the stage we went off on we picked up the pace from where we had been for a day and a half. We went out to see what we could do and we did a good split time on that stage, but unfortunately we made a mistake and got stuck. It was better to do that than drive around and not learn anything. Basically if I had completed those stages I would still have been at that same level, where as now I know I can go to that next level.

Q:
What did you make of competing alongside all the big names in the sport - your team-mate, Petter Solberg obviously but also Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm, Markko Martin, and so on.

CA:
It was pretty surreal sort of experience. It's good to get there support when they see we can do the stage times. I think they accept you a bit more because that is what it is all about. It's all about doing the speed and getting the results and until you've done that, then you really are no where. So it was good to do that early and I think, people like Petter, Marcus etc, now sort of see, one day in the future, we could be someone to be fighting with them. Obviously not yet but I think they sort of understand where we are coming from and what we have got to go through to get there.

Q:
Mexico next and it's a gravel event - so in that respect it will be more familiar territory. What's your target?

CA:
It's a surface I am more used to than the snow, so it's a bit less to deal with. Obviously it'll take a few rallies to get use to the car, like I said before - but we will be comfortable on that sort of gravel event and on the medium to high speed, that suits my style a bit. As for a result, it's more about learning early on in the year and results will hopefully come later.

Q:
Subaru are also going to introduce the 2005 spec Impreza in Mexico. Will you be in one?

CA:
Yeah - both Petter and I will have the new car there. So we're looking forward to that.

Q:
Have you driven it yet?

CA:
I have had a small drive in it, but we will basically be waiting for the shakedown in Mexico.

Q:
You've been testing since Sweden, how's that been going?

CA:
Good - for me it's more about spending time in the car, rather than anything else. Obviously someone of Petter's experience can do a fair bit of set-up and development work, whereas I'm more getting to the stage of just understanding the car and what it is capable of. So it's good just to spend as many kilometres in the car as possible and that's what we have been trying to do.

Q:
Are you settling into the team more now as well?

CA:
Definitely. It helps to get a rally under your belt - everyone sort of sees our attitude and focus. I think they also see what we are trying to do and good stages times etc, help motivate the team. So it's fantastic and good to be part of it. All the guys are helpful and supportive and want to do the best job possible.

Q:
Thanks Chris and best of luck in Mexico.

CA:
Cheers. Thanks a lot.