WRC Team MINI Portugal newbie Chris Atkinson reflects on the recce, qualifying and more ahead of this week's Wales Rally GB, the tenth round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship...

Hey everyone, how you going?

It's Chris here live from Wales Rally GB and ready to tell you all about what's been going on since my last column.

After a two day test with the MINI on the Welsh gravel at Walter's Arena, the feeling with the car is great. We tried a lot of different things during the test and I think we're starting from a good base for the rally.

The test was also great fun as my mates Colin Clark and Becs Williams from WRC Live joined the team for the day and we all had a great time together. I also took Col on a passenger ride through the test stage and he said he had 'the thrill of his life'. Well, judging from his screams that's not hard to believe. ;-)

My team-mate Paulo and I had a good laugh together earlier today when he gave me a Palmeiras jersey as a present with my name on it and the sentence 'How's it going maaaate?' which he thinks pretty much sums me up! :-)

Back to Wales Rally GB I have to say it already feels like a pretty full on week. Yesterday we had a full day of recce where we drove a killer 700km and today we completed the remaining stages then immediately joined the team at Walter's Arena for Free Practice and the Qualifying Stage but more on that later.

With the rally being run a couple of months earlier than usual the conditions are obviously a bit different from what we're used to. You can very rarely get dry weather in November, while you expect it more now during summer. There has been some rain over the last couple of days and a few of the stages were wet during recce, but it's different to November when you're close to zero degrees and you can easily find ice. On the other hand if the stages now are not wet it's a bit like tarmac, the ground is very hard, compact and it can be very hard on tyres.

I feel quite confident after recce, gravel is for sure a more familiar surface for me and I know most of the stages here at Rally GB. There are only three stages I've never driven but they're run in similar areas to others that I know. The first very stage of the rally - Dynant - is completely new but it feels like a very nice one where you have to be quite committed and even take a few risks to make a good time. Not an easy stage to start with and it was also wet and slippery when we recced it.

I know the day two stages better, but with the good feeling we have with the car I hope we can set some strong times straight away. I won't push 100 percent from the beginning though, I'll see how the feeling is and work from there.

As I mentioned today we did the Qualifying Stage which was our first one in the MINI and I feel it was quite ok. The time wasn't too bad and I think the feeling at start of the rally on Friday is quite good.

I am really looking forward to tackling these stages, but before that we have a long drive tomorrow [Thursday] up north to Llandudno where we'll do the Ceremonial Start and a few other media activities.

As you know I already knew some of the guys in the team from old times. For instance, my engineer Tomo and I have worked together in the past and clocked up some very good results together. Coming back and having him as my engineer again is really nice. He understands what I want from a car and he's a great guy to work with. The test was actually really good fun. We tried a lot of different things together trying to get the best out of the car and each other.

Of course Tomo is well-known for loving his food and wine and he introduced me to a lot of new things. We share the same tastes in good food so it's always a pleasure to go for dinner with him. When we go back to the hotel we normally get on the internet and look for nice restaurants to go nearby or new places to try anything new or different. It's always a great way to relax and have a nice conversation with a friend.

The highlight of the day was a very emotional moment, my co-driver Stephane was awarded with the Michael Park 'Beef' Trophy for service to the WRC as a co-driver. Finland this year was his 150th WRC start!

Stephane has always been very loyal to me and I might be biased but in my opinion he's a truly top class co-driver.

Well, I'm going back to the hotel to relax a bit and maybe hit the gym for some training. I'll get back with a new column on Friday night after the first big day of competition - can't wait! :-)

See ya