Chris Atkinson is to return to the World Rally Championship for the remainder of the 2012 season after agreeing a deal to spearhead the WRC Team MINI Portugal outfit.
Atkinson, who competed in Finland in a one-off deal with the Qatar World Rally Team in a Citroen DS3 WRC, will replace Armindo Araujo who has elected to stand down from his role with the team.
Atkinson will test the MINI John Cooper Works WRC this weekend before making his debut with the team in Germany later this month.
“Atko's a really top guy all the way from Australia, fast and experienced and he's going to take over as the team's number one driver, flanked by the oh-so-experienced Belgian Stephane Prevot for the rest of the season,” team manager Bruno de Pianto said. “They're a killer combination and given how fantastic the fans have been in supporting WRC Team MINI Portugal all year we really hope they'll be equally supportive of Atko and Prevot when they join us.
“It'll be his first time in a MINI on the test this weekend, but we're confident that Chris can handle any car he lays his hands on and his MINI will love him within minutes. We're all very much looking forward to working with him and Stephane and seeing what surprises Rallye Deutschland has to offer!”
De Pianto also insisted that the decision for Araujo to stand down had been taken for sporting reasons only and wasn't a 'personal decision'.
“We only found out following Monte-Carlo that we would have the opportunity to run two drivers for the full 13 event WRC Calendar as a works-supported team,” he said. “The original plan was for Armindo to run seven events as a privateer but due to our long standing and successful relationship, we wanted Armindo to stay with the team for the full season and he was pleased to join us on our journey. As you can imagine, this was one of the biggest pieces of news that any driver can have. However, the pressure on him was significant.
“After our Rally Finland debrief and further conversations with Armindo since returning home, we decided that it was better for him to take a break, relax and regain his focus on the sport and how he approaches it. We've created a great history together and it's fair to say that he had previously always been motivated and determined in his career. We've worked together for many years now – we even won two Group N world titles together! However, there's always a point where you have to admit that something isn't quite right and I hope that we've accepted that point at just the right time.
“The decision was not taken lightly and was made on purely sporting grounds. It was not a personal decision and everyone in the team wishes Armindo all the best for the future.”