2017 Year in Review: Chris Atkinson
FINISH: 7th in Supercar points
2017 RESULTS: 12 starts, 2 podiums, 6 heat wins, 585 points
2016 RESULTS: 4 starts, best finish 6th, 88 points
THE GOOD: For the first time since 2014, Atkinson returned Subaru Rally Team USA to the Supercar podium, taking third at the team’s home race in New England and even challenging eventual race winner Steve Arpin for second at one point. It was a hard-earned trophy for the series’ first full-time Australian driver, who had shown plenty of promise in a limited 2016 campaign with a front-row start in the Seattle final and pole in the Los Angeles finale.
Atkinson notched six heat and semifinal wins during the year, more than anyone else outside of the top three in final points, and added a second podium in Seattle. That weekend, he qualified on the pole for the second time in his Red Bull GRC career, breaking a podium streak for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross that extended back to his previous pole nearly a year earlier.
THE BAD: Bad points weekends in Memphis and Louisville removed Atkinson from the title chase earlier than he should’ve been. A DNF in the season opener, combined with mechanical issues that forced both Atkinson and teammate Patrik Sandell to miss everything from the third round forward in Kentucky, left the team in a disappointing championship position early on.
Unfortunately, the second-year driver also dealt with a large share of tough results as the season wore on; Ottawa II (after a rollover on the initial start), Atlantic City I, and Los Angeles all saw the #55 fall to ninth at the finish. The California event may have been the most disappointing, given his speed the previous year; finishes of fourth, fifth, fifth, and fifth in the heats and semifinals stifled his points haul and kept him 16 points out of sixth place.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: “We’ve worked hard throughout the season—we got to learn a lot more with the car and we gained a lot of time. The car improved throughout the season. The guys built a new car in four months, and it was pretty impressive, just to be out there racing, and having a quick car. But the time through the season to develop it made a big difference. I think the results are showing during this year, being on the podium.”
2018 PROGNOSIS: By the end of the season, Atkinson had a car capable of consistent podium finishes. Wins can’t be far behind in next year’s events.
Photo credit: Louis Yio