BONDY WITH A NEED FOR SPEED
Virtually unknown two years ago, Subaru driver Chris Atkinson is Australia’s only driver in the World Rally Championship. But Chris is certainly no petrol-head fool. A Bond Alumnus, Chris won an academic scholarship to Bond in 1997 and completed a commerce degree majoring in finance and accounting.
When Chris graduated in 2000, becoming a rally driver wasn’t on the agenda.
"When I was studying I hadn’t even started rallying. While I enjoyed watching it occasionally, I never dreamed it would end up being my career," Chris said.
Instead, as a teenager, the young Gold Coaster reached the conclusion that his future lay in stockbroking, because "brokers earned pretty good money".
But all that soon changed when, after two years of watching on the sidelines, Chris decided to give co-driving with his brother, Ben, a shot.
After only a couple of events in the co-drivers seat, Chris traded places with his brother, making his rally debut aboard a 1971 Toyota Corolla in the final round of the 2000 Queensland Rally Championship. And so began what was to be a very successful partnership for the Atkinson brothers.
Just one year later, and with less than 80km of competition under his belt, Chris achieved an incredible "first in class" and third outright in his first major rally, encouraging him to make the decision to compete in the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) the following year.
Chris and Ben became serious contenders in the 2002 ARC, finishing in the top ten on numerous occasions. They achieved this despite campaigning as a privateer entry and competing against drivers with years of experience, in possibly the most competitive ARC ever. In the end, the Atkinson boys finished ninth outright and were crowned Privateer Champions.
2003 saw more championship round wins and podium places, as the Atkinson boys took the rally scene by surprise in Australia and abroad.
Then Chris all but blitzed the Australian Championship circuit in 2004, winning an amazing three rounds of the six events.
His performance was rewarded with an opportunity to compete at the highest level of rallying in the world. Chris was signed to join the Subaru World Rally Team to contest the 2005 World Rally Championship (WRC) – making him the first Australian to become a full-time world rally driver.
"This is a dream come true", he said at the time.
The past year, Chris competed in countries as diverse as Argentina, Greece, Mexico, Finland, Sardinia, Germany, Japan and Sweden, while he also travelled to Canada to help Subaru launch its latest Impreza model.
Chris’s performance last year, and his obvious talent, saw the Subaru World Rally team sign him again for the 2006 WRC, so his passport will no doubt continue to receive a workout this year as he travels to the various stages throughout Europe, Mexico, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
A far cry from the paper pushing and number crunching of his planned stockbroking career, but Chris says his study days at Bond were still well spent.
"While I don’t use my degree in the way I thought I would when I started studying in 1997, I still find that it holds a lot of relevance to what I am doing today," he said.
"Bond was a great place to learn, not only about finance and commerce, but it also taught me a lot of general life skills as well.
"I learnt a lot - especially about how to approach different situations and also how to react under pressure.
"I still count graduating from my degree as one of my most memorable days – knowing that my hard work over the years had paid off," Chris said.
And while Chris isn’t hoping to return to his stockbroking career any time soon, he says it gives him piece of mind knowing he can always fall back on his finance qualifications and experience if he needs to.
But for now, he has his mind firmly set on conquering the World Rally Championship.
"At the moment I am aiming to achieve my goal of reaching the top of my sport, to hopefully one day become World Champion."