Confirmed to make his GRC debut at this weekend’s event in Atlantic City in New Jersey, the 36-year-old Australian – a former Subaru World Rally Team (2005-2008), Subaru Rally Team Australia (2004), and Hyundai World Rally Team (2014) driver – will race alongside Subaru Rally Team USA drivers Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek in a freshly-built GRC-spec 2017 Subaru WRX STI wearing the number #55.
Despite a long-standing friendship with Gymkhana star and GRC competitor Ken Block, the US event - a one-off for Atkinson at this stage - will be the Australian rally ace's first-ever in competitive rallycross, with recent testing in the Subaru Rally Team USA WRX STI being his only taste of what a 447kW (600hp), four-wheel-drive, GRC car able to hit 100km/h in less than 2.0 seconds feels like.
Speaking directly to CarAdvice ahead of his debut GRC weekend, ‘Atko’ said while he’s been looking at rallycross for the last couple of years, a real opportunity hadn’t come up until now.
“It looks like the sport is really growing all over the world and a lot of the guys I used to race against in WRC like Loeb and Solberg are racing it now as well,” Bega-born Atkinson said.
“This [event] is just a one-off at the moment. It’s good as it gives both me and the team a chance to see how we work together and if there is some potential for the future as well."
More familiar with a 254kW rally car than 447kW GRC car, Atkinson said the sheer power of the rallycross cars is the biggest difference between the two.
“You nearly have double the power of a WRC car, so that is cool, but also a challenge to get that power to the ground. The actual handling is very similar to a WRC car, you just have to work a bit harder to control the car, especially on the exit of corners."
After being away from the Subaru brand for so long, Atkinson said he's been blown away by the support he's already been receiving, saying, "It's a strange feeling."
"It's been a long time and it's almost surreal. But the response has been great and there is a lot of support from Subaru fans, which is really nice."
Combining attributes from rally, circuit racing, and drifting into a high-paced stadium-style motorsport, rallycross has captured the attention of not only regular sideways junkies like Ken Block, but also extreme sportsman Travis Pastrana, nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb, two-time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm and, in the FIA World Rallycross Championship series, Petter Solberg (Atkinson’s Subaru WRC teammate from back in 2005-2008).
Round nine of the 12-round Red Bull Global Rallycross series kicks off Saturday August 27, with the 1.77-kilometre, 10-turn, runway-based course comprising 80 per cent tarmac and 20 per cent gravel.
All of us here at CarAdvice wish Atko all the best… Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.