Ross Dunkerton carried it across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand in 1992 before, a generation later Chris Atkinson made his mark on the world stage. He became his country’s most successful activist globally with half a dozen top-three rankings.
Trained as a stockbroker, stepping up to the WRC stages was not easy for the New South Wales-born driver – especially after starting his motorsport career as a co-driver.
Visiting a rally school in Australia, Chris and his brother Ben swapped seats and found the former to be the fastest. Chris took the wheel and began a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the sport.
Spotted by Suzuki in 2003, the Japanese manufacturer took Atkinson out of the Australian championship and took him to the Asia-Pacific series.
Video: Pilot special: Chris Atkinson
It was at the wheel of one of the Ignis Super 1600s that he took 12th place in the 2004 Rally Japan. This result and a superb fifth place overall in a Subaru Impreza Group N in the Rally Australia qualifying for the WRC have put Atkinson on the radar for the Subaru World Rally Team.
It was still a surprise when he was hired alongside Petter Solberg to drive a factory Impreza WRC in 2005. “Atko” reveled in it. He skipped the highly specialized opening of the Monte-Carlo Rally and dove straight to Sweden, where he showed great speed in his first snow event.
Moving on to gravel, his first clay stop in a World Rally Car was the Ibarrilla 23km test in Mexico. He finished third.
Ten rallies and six months later – and still in his rookie season – Atkinson led Rally Japan. Trading times with Solberg at the start of the Obihiro-based event, Subaru’s Japanese contingent were delighted with the Australian loader. In the end, he had climbed back to third place, but his first WRC podium was in the bag.
A first full campaign in 2006 delivered many top 10 finishes and the speed increased until 2007, but it was in 2008 that Chris came out on top.
Starting the season on the podium in Monte-Carlo, he fought hard for the title throughout the first half of the year. A three rally race through Mexico, Argentina and Jordan, in which he finished second at León and Villa Carlos Paz before taking third place in Amman, was his strongest race in the series.
Until 2008, Atkinson edged Solberg in seven rallies and finished ahead of the Norwegian in the championship standings.
With his career heading north from the launch pad, he was brought back to earth with a bump when Subaru ended his WRC participation ahead of the 2009 season.
Atkinson returned to the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, initially with Proton, and won the title with Škoda in 2012. Towards the end of that year, he replaced Armindo Araujo in a Mini John Cooper Works WRC to specification. factory, but could not handle the same results it had achieved four years earlier.
A pair of outings in 2014 with Hyundai Motorsport marked a seventh and a 10th place in Mexico and Australia, but marked the end of Atkinson’s time in the WRC.
He returned to Prodrive to face the Chinese Championship in a Volkswagen Golf built by the team that ran his factory Subarus. In 2014, ’15 and ’16, Atkinson was the man to beat in China – he had a 100% winning record in 2016, his last season in the car.
Lately, Atkinson has moved to rallycross, featured in the American Rallycross series with Subaru Motorsport USA. With less time competing in Europe, he left his Monegasque home and returned to Australia.
Still active in sport, he is currently between two competitive programs.
• Images: Prodrive