After such a promising start to Rally Australia on Friday, Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has endured a further two difficult days to finish the event in 10th place.
While he returned to the event under Super Rally rules on Saturday, complete with a 25 minute penalty, Atkinson felt the car's handling was never as good as it was before his unfortunate accident and resulting fire on the opening leg, when he was leading the rest of the field.
Not only did the young Queenslander have to deal with that frustration, his luck turned even further when, after coming over a blind crest on today's second stage, he found a tree across the road. In the process of taking evasive action, he clipped a tree on the side of the road, damaging the left hand rear side of his Impreza WRC.
Fortunately the damage was largely cosmetic and he was able to complete the day, but the incident seemed to sum up Atkinson's fortune at his home event this weekend.
His fellow Subaru World Rally Team driver, Petter Solberg, fared better, finishing in second place 37.1 seconds behind the winner, Mikko Hirvonen, the best result for the team since Argentina. Manfred Stohl was third, three minutes 21.5 seconds behind with Xavier Pons fourth, a further 46.8 seconds back.
The Subaru team were encouraged by the improvement shown over the last two events, but are aware that more is still to be done.
"We made a few changes last night for the final day but I still don't feel that confident in the car and you need confidence here," Atkinson said.
"Without confidence it's hard to push and get the sort of speed we had on the first day."
"It wasn't the result that we wanted but we had the pace we wanted on the opening day, and that's encouraging because it could have very easily been a podium result for us."
"We've still got a lot of work to do, so we're not kidding ourselves that we're back where we need to be. So we are encouraged but we're not getting carried away."
"I'm looking forward to Rally New Zealand now. If we can take some more steps forward with the car then we might be in the position to push for a podium again, so that is definitely our goal."
Subaru privateer, Dean Herridge, was the top placed Australian, finishing eighth outright, scoring one WRC point, and third in the Production WRC (PWRC) competition.
Sebastien Loeb has an unassailable lead in the 2006 World Championship with two rounds remaining.
Final Results - Rally Australia
1, Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 03:15:11.8, 00.0
2, Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC 2006, 03:15:48.9, +37.1
3, Stohl / Minor, Peugeot 307 WRC, 03:19:10.4, +03:58.6
4, Pons / Del barrio, Citroën Xsara WRC, 03:19:57.2, +04:45.4
5, Grönholm / Rautiainen, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 03:27:35.6, +12:23.8
8, Herridge / Hayes, Subaru Impreza WRX, 03:33:33.8, +18:22.0
10, Atkinson / Macneall, Subaru Impreza WRC 2006, 03:42:17.3, +27:05.5