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Atkinson moves to fourth in Japan


Chris Atkinson has produced a strong drive on the second day of Rally Japan to move his Subaru Impreza WRC2006 into fourth place with just one day remaining.

The 26-year-old Queensland rally driver started the day in sixth position but produced consistent pace across the day to move ahead of both Manfred Stohl and Daniel Sordo.

Sebastien Loeb has taken the outright lead from Marcus Gronholm by 25.6 seconds, with Mikko Hirvonen remaining in third place, one minute 43.1 seconds off the pace.

Atkinson is a further two minutes 41 seconds behind, so with just six stages across 93 competitive kilometres remaining tomorrow, Atkinson will need others to have trouble if he is to repeat his podium result from last year in Japan.

Still, it has been Atkinson's strongest showing of the year, and he produced a number of top three results on stages across the day.

"It's been a good day," said Atkinson.

"We made up a couple of spots and now we've got a bit of a gap over Stohl, which is exactly what we wanted to do."

"We had a few scratches this morning when we took a few chances, but this afternoon I took it pretty easy. We took a good choice of tyres that was a pretty safe option and tomorrow we'll judge the pace and drive accordingly."

"There is still away to go in developing the car, and that is the most important thing now so we'll keep working away on that."

After frustrations on Leg one, Petter Solberg's car's performance improved considerably and the Norwegian ended the day strongly by setting the second quickest time on the last two proper stages. Solberg holds seventh place overnight, ahead of the team's third driver, Toshihiro Arai, who lies eighth.

Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor, was pleased that the team had experienced a better day.

"We've taken encouragement today in Chris' strong progress up the leaderboard to fourth position and the two second-quickest times that Petter has been able to set this afternoon'" Taylor said.

"Of course we are still disappointed with the technical problems that the drivers have endured on the rally and we have much work to do to ensure our cars perform consistently well and enable us to be fully competitive."

The third and final Leg of Rally Japan starts from Obihiro at 0600hrs with a podium finish at 1500hrs (1600hrs AEST) in the service area
Ian Chesterman

Auto Trader New Zealand