TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CHRIS ATKINSON: CLICK HERE

Chris Atkinson will make his debut in a Citroen C4 WRC car on the Rally Ireland this week. Crash.net Radio's Rob Wilkins caught up with the Aussie to find out how much he is looking forward to the opening round in the 2009 World Rally Championship...

Crash.net:
Chris, obviously a lot has happened since the end of last season. To begin with just how much of a shock was it when you're old team, Subaru, announced they were pulling out of the WRC?

Chris Atkinson:
It was a big surprise for everyone involved. There were a lot of ramifications throughout the sport because of that and a lot more people than us were affected as well. Obviously it wasn't great news. We knew on the day, when they called for us to come and meet them, that something was going on. But we didn't expect that.

Crash.net:
It was quite sad too wasn't it, especially because with the new car things were looking quite promising for 2009?

CA:
It was disappointing because we had all worked so hard and we knew there were some improvements coming. We had hoped to win and obviously we had hoped to win in previous years. But there was work going on to really improve the performance. However other factors became involved and a decision was taken. That is the way it goes. That is life.

Crash.net:
Since Subaru's exit you have secured a drive with the Citroen Junior Team for the first event in Ireland. How did that deal come about?

CA:
We started looking for something after we heard the announcement [by Subaru to quit]. We obviously wanted to stay in the top flight and Subaru actually said to us that they wanted us to be in the top category and they weren't going to hold us back. They were going to let us go on if an opportunity came about. Fortunately when we spoke to Citroen they made it possible for a car to be available and luckily we have been able to put a deal together for Ireland. Hopefully we can do some more events too but we will maybe let people know later about that. I will focus on doing Ireland and see where we go from there.

Crash.net:
You have already tested the Citroen C4 WRC. How confident are you feeling with it and how much will that test help you in Ireland?

CA:
It is difficult to say how well we will do because it is our first time in the car and Ireland is not an easy event. It is very tricky and obviously the drivers - especially on tarmac for Citroen, are very good and the car is very good. We hope to do well. We had a good test. It was one day and we started to get a feeling towards the end of it. I was quite comfortable with the car. We went up and down with a few settings but in the end ended up somewhere pretty normal for them. Everyone was pretty happy and it was good for me to drive a different World Rally Car for the first time in my career and get to experience that feeling. It was an exciting day on our behalf and I just tried to take it all in. It all depends now on how well I adapt to how well I will go in Ireland.

Crash.net:
Of course the C4 and the Impreza are obviously very different cars. Do you think you will have to change your driving style?

CA:
A little bit. I was still learning about that on the day and I think even with another day testing we would get quicker in the car again. It is just about adapting my style a little bit. But I don't think I have to change too much. The car works for you a lot and as long as you push you get the result.

Crash.net:
Are you looking forward to directly comparing yourself against Sebastien Loeb?

CA:
That is the main thing I am interested in, but we are not expecting to be competitive. He is a world champion five times now and is pretty much unbeatable on tarmac and we are going to a tarmac rally for our first rally in this car. We are more interested in just getting a good base, getting a good feeling and hopefully achieving a solid result. But it will be good to see just where we are and what it is going to take, hopefully, one day to be competitive with someone like Sebastien.

Crash.net:
Ireland was last in the WRC in 2007. What is it like as an event?

CA:
It is interesting - obviously a really good event. Fan wise and support wise it is really exciting. For us to go and do an event that is well supported and has got a good interest is great. I think it was one of the most watched rounds of the world championship when it was in back in 2007. Obviously the roads are very tricky - narrow and slippery, and it is going to be cold and wet at this time of year as it was last time. I did it the year before that in 2006 too in a Group N car and again it was tricky conditions. But that is what you have got to expect. The biggest thing will be the new tyre rules and how people adapt to that and working with the soft snow tyre or the slick tyre we have got to choose from.

Crash.net:
What is your main aim? Is it just to get through the event and get mileage?

CA:
I am not going to cruise around and I am not going to go there and say I want a top ten finish because that is not where we are use to finishing in with the Subaru. The last time we did an event in similar conditions we were competitive and I won a stage the last time I did Rally Ireland. We were on the podium on the Rallye Monte Carlo twelve months ago too. You don't want to set your sights too low. But I don't want to be overly optimistic either and say I am going to be competitive with the factory guys. Hopefully we will be somewhere in between and if we can get some good points for the Citroen Junior Team and fight against the second Ford team as well I will be pleased. We will see how we go. We will have to wait and see. I think shakedown and the first day will give me a much clearer indication and then we will see if we can push after that.

Crash.net:
Unfortunately you are not entered for the Rally Norway - do you know what event you will be doing next in the WRC?

CA:
We haven't sorted a plan yet. We are waiting on a few things before we make that decision. Hopefully we can do as many events as possible. But a few things still have to come together. We will just have to wait and see. Obviously I am excited about doing as many events as I can in the C4 and we are working on that at the moment. That is basically all I can say.

Crash.net:
Do you have any idea when you might be able to confirm more?

CA:
We will wait for Ireland and do that and then we will say whether we are going to announce more after that.

Crash.net:
The WRC has had a difficult build up to the 2009 season, with the exit of Subaru and Suzuki. Should people be worried about the state of the sport?

CA:
I think the sport should be okay. It is just a matter of putting all the pieces together. There is too much divergence at the moment in terms of the focus. The sport needs to sort itself out before anyone is going to back it fully and hopefully that will come soon. Obviously we have got Ford and Citroen committed to the championship and hopefully in 2010 we will see some more manufacturers come in and that is what will make it an exciting championship.

I think it will be a good year this year though. You have got a lot of competitive cars and okay, there are only two manufacturers, but you have got a lot of competitive drivers. That can make it exciting because you are not sure what is going to happen with some of the people in the 'Junior' teams or the second teams. That will be interesting. But you need a more manufacturer based championship. I guess consolidation and a more stable foundation will give the series something for other manufacturers to look forward to and invest in.

Crash.net:
Will it be weird starting the year in Ireland as opposed to Monte Carlo?

CA:
It is quite strange. I have always enjoyed the Rallye Monte Carlo and have had some good results there. I saw the teams setting up for the rally down there and not being apart of it was weird.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CHRIS ATKINSON: CLICK HERE