Motorsport: Aussie adds another win to CV

By Eric Thompson

Chris Atkinson in action on the first day of the International Rally of Whangarei. Photo / Geoff Ridder
Chris Atkinson in action on the first day of the International Rally of Whangarei. Photo / Geoff Ridder

Defending International Rally of Whangarei champion Australian Chris Atkinson has added another Asia Pacific Rally Champion round to his already impressive CV.

He held off Swede Per-Gunnar Andersson and Indian driver Gaurav Gill to take the weekend's outright honours and APRC class points.

Atkinson held the overnight lead and was never really troubled on day two of the rally, letting Chris West and Richard Mason set the fastest times as they both had failed to finish on day one.

Mason, a three-time New Zealand Rally Championship winner, went out with rear differential problems and West, also a former NZRC champion, suffered drive-train issues that ended his chances of an overall win.

"It's been a fantastic couple of days and the team and the car have been amazing," said Atkinson. "The whole package worked really well right from the start and we didn't have to change a thing on the car all weekend.

"It was a bit difficult having to run first on the road and sweeping it but we held off the other guys, which was all we had to do, and got the win."

While the APRC drivers were sorting themselves out, the find of the weekend, 19-year-old Alex Kelsey, with the very experienced Raymond Bennett in the co-driver's seat, became the youngest driver to win a round of a national rally championship.

He took advantage of West's and Mason's Saturday misfortune and yesterday benefited from leading Kiwi driver Emma Gilmour's bad luck at the start of racing when she suffered a puncture dropping her to third in the NZRC championship.

Matt Jansen rounded out the top three Kiwi drivers in second.

Kelsey had one of his biggest crashes in his career last year at this event but was firing on all cylinders at the weekend.

"I am absolutely speechless to be honest," said a slightly shell-shocked Kelsey. "Bloody hell, all the goal was to finish the rally.

"To be first NZRC driver home is a feeling I can't quite put into words yet.

"Crunch [co-driver Bennett] has done a marvellous job today and I drove to my limit in some places and the car's in others.

"There's still a lot that can be done to make this car quicker.

"Winning this weekend wasn't even a pipe dream before the race started. Totally unbelievable."

- NZ Herald

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