Australian Hyundai Motorsport driver Chris Atkinson has confirmed he is eyeing off a potential move into the action-packed sideways sport of Global Rallycross.
Speaking exclusively to CarAdvice, the 34-year-old Hyundai World Rally Championship (WRC) driver says while there are no plans currently in place, the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) is of definite interest.
“I’d like to definitely explore the opportunities,” Atkinson said.
“For me I’d like a bit of a mixture between doing some rallying during the season and doing some rallycross.
“I think it can be really interesting and I think skills from each one can help vice versa and I think it’s good for profile as well to be doing different championships, not just sticking with one.
“There’s nothing in place. I haven’t really started any serious communication but if a seat was to become available then of course I’d be interested in doing rallycross and if there’s opportunities in rally, I’m not going to turn them down either. I think there’s a bit of a place for both if I can manage that.”
Freshly returned from a brief trip to the US to catch up with old friend, Gymkhana star and Global Rallycross competitor Ken Block – also the man behind the DC Shoes empire – Atkinson says he still hasn’t driven a rallycross car himself.
“No, unfortunately not. I’d love to but I haven’t had the chance yet. I’m sure somewhere down the track I will.
“And, you know, 600hp [447kW] four-wheel drive cars are good fun no matter what you’re doing with them.
“WRC cars are incredible but these are pretty much double the power of a WRC car,” says Atkinson, “everyone who’s driven one says it just blows your mind – you know, 0-100km/h in 1.8-2.0sec, anytime you’re doing that, it’s impressive.”
Made famous at the 2010 X Games and debuting with its first full season in 2011, GRC – backed by Austrian energy drink giant Red Bull – combines attributes from rally, circuit racing and drifting into a high-paced stadium-style motorsport.
Apart from the likes of Ken Block and extreme sportsman Travis Pastrana, GRC has also been graced by rally icons such as nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and two-time WRC title winner Marcus Gronholm.
And within the Hyundai family, New Zealand-born Rhys Millen (pictured above) has been driving a Veloster SR Turbo in the series, along with fellow Kiwi Emma Gilmour – the latter being a personality Chris knows through rallying in the Asia Pacific and NZ.
“I’ve had some contact with him [Millen],” Atko said.
“I know who he is and he knows who I am, so it’s easy to make contact.”
As for the potential of being future Hyundai teammates with Millen, the Bega native says at this stage, he has no idea.
“I haven’t started any conversation or anything like that. It’s something that we need to look at.
“Obviously the Hyundai link would make sense but, like I said, there’s nothing in place at the moment.
“I’ve enjoyed working with [Hyundai] and really enjoyed working with the guys at Hyundai Australia as well, so yeah, it’d be good to stay associated with it. Of course, you never know what can happen in the future.”
With several rally specialists moving over to rallycross, including Chris’ former Subaru WRC teammate Petter Solberg – who just claimed his first FIA World Rallycross Championship title following his 2003 WRC driver’s crown – Atkinson says the sport suits rally drivers in different ways.
“I think it depends a lot on the tracks.
“I definitely think the [European based] FIA World Rallycross Championship series is better suited towards rally drivers, the American GRC [however] could be more suited towards circuit racers because there’s less percentage of gravel and less sliding.”
Citing a recent round of GRC in Los Angeles, California, Atkinson says the course was around 10 per cent gravel and 90 per cent tarmac.
“[Rallycross cars] are not quite the same as driving a formula car or even any sort of touring car, they’re a unique sort of beast that I think a rally driver can adapt to because they’re moving and they’re sliding and you’ve got to keep the momentum going with them.”
Atkinson also points out that money isn’t everything in rallycross, with Petter’s entry being a privateer team.
“Petter [a guy Atko jokingly refers to as someone who’s “got the hang of driving a car”] wouldn’t have been able to win the World Rally Championship as a privateer team but he’s won a rallycross championship as a privateer team, so it shows what can be done.”
Comparing the relationship between WRC and GRC to that of test match cricket and the one-day format, Atkinson says while the two share clear commonality, they are their own individually different sport.
“They really are separate sports,” Atkinson said.
“As much as there is some sort of overlap of the name, like rallycross and rally, [GRC] is it’s own sport and it aims a bit at the youth crowd – they’re short races with six-lap heats and a 10-lap final – it’s done in a few hours.
“With everyone’s attention span getting shorter and shorter, it offers something that’s pretty compact and pretty exciting. It’s a bit like going from test match cricket to one-day cricket, you know, there’s a place for both of them but sort of a different crowd.”
The likelihood of local crowds seeing a Global Rallycross event on home soil, however, remains up in the air, with Atko saying while rumours of a plan have been circling, he’s yet to hear anything “concrete”.
“I think it’d be a great sport in Australia.
“[It’d be] something different to V8 Supercars and I think it’d be really good in the right set up but it’s got to be done well whatever it is, in terms of the track and getting the right people out here.
“In terms of competition, it’d be great to have guys like Petter, guys like Ken, Travis Pastrana, all those guys come out and race. I think you’d get a massive crowd and it’d be a great show. And I think [GRC] would be great TV content in Australia as well if we could get it on free-to-air TV. I think it’s got big legs.”
Still yet to be confirmed for the 2015 WRC season with Hyundai Motosport, the ever-humble Atkinson tells us as long as he’s in a car doing what he loves, he’ll be happy.
“I want to be rallying next year. If it’s in rallycross or in rally then I’d be happy either way.”
Hyundai Australia has given Chris its backing too with public relations general manager Bill Thomas telling CarAdvice, the local division is “fully behind him”.
“We’re obviously fully supportive of Chis as an ambassador and we’re always interested in his suggestions and in his plans,” Thomas said.
“We’ll back him as much as we can.”
Using Hyundai America’s long-standing support of Rhys Millen over in the US as an example, Thomas said that relationship has "been brilliant”.
“It’s good to see that in action and to see the success of that with us looking at things from here,” Thomas said.
“We’re open to ideas and fully interested in it.”