by Rob Wilkins

Subaru's Chris Atkinson ended the 2007 season seventh in the drivers' championship, having notched up 31 points in total. Radio caught up with the Aussie to chat about his season - and his hopes for next year...
Chris, how happy were you with your performances in 2007?

Chris Atkinson:
I think there are a lot of positive things to look at. We moved forward in quite a lot of areas - with my driving in different conditions and with my pace on tarmac. We won stages on every surface too, which was quite good. But obviously it wasn't the result the team was looking for and I guess we all know that. That is why we will keep working hard for next year and we are looking forward to the new car as well.
Everybody knows the Impreza WRC wasn't exactly the quickest car this year, how tough was it to stay motivated?

It is obviously difficult. I guess the good results we had and the good stage times kept everyone motivated in the team and kept me motivated to keep training hard. But obviously you have your moments as well. That is part of the sport and part of everyone's life in sport. You are going to have those times and you have just got to get on with it and move on and keep looking forward.
The final event was the Rally GB and like the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo it included a couple of night stages. Do you think bringing back night stages is a positive thing?

For me it is quite cool to do. I have never done so much night rallying. It is good fun and we get to be able to drive those cars at night. We actually did pretty similar times to what we did in the day. Obviously with the lights and everything it works out well. But it is a different experience and a different challenge and when it starts raining and is foggy it becomes a whole new challenge.
Would you like to see more night stages in the future?

It adds to the spectacle - but it is all about what is good for the audiences and what the spectators want to see. I am not sure what the feedback was from them. For me though it is what rallying should be. Rallying should be a challenge, it should be a mix of things and that is just another challenge. I think it is pretty cool.
Looking to next year, how confident are you that Subaru will be able to bounce back and get closer to Ford and Citroen?

Obviously we are still working flat-out on the current car and the new car. But it is difficult when both cars are being developed. The team has got to decide where the effort goes - whether we spend time on the current car or whether we focus on the new car and that is not my decision. But from my side I will be giving everything from the start and I see no reason why we can't be relatively competitive with a few small steps on the current car. Hopefully then that will lead into a good transition with the new car.
Have you driven the new Impreza yet?

No I haven't driven it. I am not sure of the testing plan at the moment. I am in Australia and I am not sure when we will get a chance for that but I guess it might be a couple of months away.
What are your targets for next season?

I would just like to keep improving, even more consistency, even more speed and try and start getting a consistent level of podiums. We obviously hoped for that this year but it was difficult and the best results we had were a few fourth places, but no podiums and that is where we want to get back to. We want to get into a position where we can hopefully fight for a championship in the next year or two.
All the teams will switch to using Pirelli tyres next year and there will be no-run flat mousse. How much difference is that going to make?

It is going to be interesting - that is for sure. Really everyone was on the same tyres this year but we had a lot of choices. Next year the tyre decision will be pretty simple - there will be usually one or two compounds to choose from and it is going to be down to a bit of driver skill, with regard to punctures as well, with no anti-deflation devices. It is going to take a different set-up on the car too because the tyres are designed a bit differently. The tyres are stiffer and stronger [to try and prevent punctures] and the result of that is less grip. It is going to be a new challenge.
How much testing have you got planned prior to the Rallye Monte Carlo in January?

We have got some testing in the first week of January, I think. We are testing in France. We have got a two-day test for that and then obviously we will be doing some testing for Sweden as well.
Subaru started fielding three-cars on all events from the Rally Finland - has it been useful having Xavier Pons in the team?

Xavier is a really good guy and good to work with. He has brought some experience from other teams and that all helps. I think he is learning as we move forward together as a team and it can only help to have extra feedback and extra input from a new driver and someone of his level.
How do you expect your rivals to perform next year?

Obviously [Citroen's] Sebastien [Loeb] is going to be the guy to beat and we are looking - Petter and myself, both to be up there competing for wins and podiums. But whether we can do that straight away we will have to wait and see. Mikko [Hirvonen] looks like he is coming on really well [at the BP Ford WRT] and he is doing some really top rallies. It would be good to see him fighting with Sebastien. We don't want to see Sebastian walk away with it. We want to see some action. We want to hopefully have three or four drivers fighting for rally wins. That would be the best thing and it makes it fun for us as drivers as well.
What are your plans for Christmas and the New Year?

I am in Australia for a couple of weeks. We don't get that long a break. We will head back the first few days in January and then kick off testing. Basically just training - it has been a pretty hectic couple of months with the lead up of rallies and it was fairly non-stop there. Now it is time to get fit again and get back on track and just re-energise the body and get ready to hit it.