Chris Atkinson’s début Red Bull Global Rallycross weekend has so far been nothing short of remarkable.
The former World Rally Championship star headed to Atlantic City this weekend having never raced a rallycross event in his life, the majority of his career being spent on the stages, but the Australian was immediately on the pace.
In first practice he was fourth, and he remained in the top five in final practice before giving Subaru their best qualifying result of the year with sixth. But despite being up there right away, Atkinson didn’t expect to be mixing with the championship contenders so early.
“I was definitely happy with the first one, straight out of the box to be in fourth place, these guys have driven these cars a lot,” Atkinson said. “With me it’s me first weekend, so I’m still learning and second practice I played around with my driving a bit and I expected to be a bit quicker than I was and it didn’t work out. Still, it’s a good start. I think we can be a bit quicker, so now we’re just working on that.”
Subaru have struggled in recent seasons, their last win coming at the series’ last visit to Dirtfish in 2014, and Atkinson’s arrival appears to have rejuvenated the Vermont Sports Car-run team.
“I think the team’s made improvements, they’ve been working hard,” he said. “Hopefully me being here gives them a bit of direction as well, a bit of help in setup and also a different driver, a different driving styles so then the other guys can look at what I’m doing and pick up some things as well and I’ll try and look at what they’re doing and learn a bit as well.”
“I think having more drivers, more cars can help the team and push it forward quicker,” he added. “Especially in practice, if I come out of the box well and I’m a second up on them they can look at my times and go ‘okay we can improve’ and vice versa – if they were out of the box quicker I can go and look at them and see and learn, where two cars and different driving styles before as well was a bit harder before I think.”
After his stellar Saturday performance, Atkinson has set his sights on a strong result on race day, although he admits that anything could happen when the lights go out.
“If we’re somewhere around that fifth or sixth I think we’d be happy with the result, but you just never know with rallycross,” he admitted. “The biggest thing, we wanted to come here and see an improvement in times and we’ve already done that so it’s a good step forward. If we don’t have the best result in the race, so be it, but we’re showing that the car’s more competitive now.”
“There are areas we can work on and improve and if we can get that gap, I feel I could’ve been another four of five tenths [of a second] quicker in practice which puts us half a second off the pace, it starts to be competitive, now you’re looking for details not big gaps.”
So far Atkinson’s Red Bull GRC foray is a one race deal. The arrangement came together last minute and although he has his sights firmly focussed on this weekend, Atkinson isn’t ruling out future appearances.
“They just were looking at a few options and rang me up and asked me to come and test and spoke with Lance [Smith, team principal of Subaru Rally Team USA] who said if the test goes well we might race and here we are,” he said. “At the moment just focussed on this weekend and then we’ll sit down and figure out if we’re doing more and where the future lies and so far I’m enjoying it, I hope we can do some good times, I just want to be quick, get a good result for the guys because the guys have all been working hard so that’s the most important thing.”