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GP Week : Issue 165
WRC >>> NEWS A communique from Motorsport Italia issued on August 16 stated that “Armindo (Araujo) and Miguel (Ramalho) will no longer be competing with WRC Team MINI Portugal.” The communique added: “There is always a point where you have to admit that something isn’t quite right. The decision was made on purely sporting grounds. It was not a personal decision. The pressure on (Armindo) was significant.” The communique stated only that Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot would compete in Germany. Nothing was said about the remaining four rounds of the WRC season, in which either Atkinson or Prevot were believed to have to dismantle conflicting agreements on three of the events. Araujo contested eight rounds of the 2012 WRC. Notwithstanding many technical problems, he gained world championship drivers points on three occasions. He qualified as a finisher on every event except Argentina when stopped by transmission trouble on the final morning. 32 year-old Atkinson meanwhile issued a statement confidently saying he would compete on all five remaining WRC events this year as number one driver for WRC Team Mini Portugal. The divorce then got messy ... WRC Mini Motorsport Italia team’s hopes that the divorce could be resolved amicably ended with claims by Araujo that the team tried to coerce him into saying he had a back injury and could not compete in Germany. It is presumed that illness would be considered an acceptable reason by the FIA for the team to be granted an out-of-time change of crew in favour of Chris Atkinson. Araujo stated that the team prevented him from testing the new version Mini car, a facility granted to Atkinson, adding that he personally owns the WRC Team Mini Portugal licence under which the team competes in the world championship events. He stated that papers have now been delivered to his lawyer to protect his name as well as the project. Meanwhile it was reported that Atkinson’s request not to contest Rally Japan, a round of the FIA’s Asia Pacific championship which he is currently leading, which conflicts with Wales Rally GB, was not well received by his MRF Skoda APRC team. It seems that title success in the APRC is a condition of the continued activities of the Australian based MRF team. Motorsport Italia team manager Bruno de Pianto meanwhile said in Trier that he continues to have enormous respect for Armindo, who had brought the associated Ralliart Italy team two world rally titles and would dearly enjoy having him drive for them again. ARAUJO SACKED The return of Australian driver Chris Atkinson to the world championship, as the surprise replacement in the Mini Portugal team for the Portuguese driver Armindo Araujo, had not gone unnoticed. His appearance suggested he wanted to slide back into the WRC with a degree of anonymity. The latest sporting comeback by the former Subaru team driver has certainly caused some ruffles in the service park. Throughout Rallye Deutschland there were reports that Atkinson was strangely never seen alone. Bodyguards are nothing new in rally sport. Prince (now King) Abdullah of Jordan was never alone when he was an active rally driver; the late Carlos Menem Junior, son of Argentina’s President, was the same. Their countryman Luis Perez Companc had similar reasons to appear cautiously in public in his home country. The organisers of Rallye Deutschland had denied there was an unusual situation about Chris Atkinson until journalists noticed themselves that Atkinson’s Mini was being closely followed into the service area by a police motorcyclist. Yes, the organisers admitted, but it was purely a precaution. The police had heard anonymous rumours of hatred against Atkinson and they wanted to play a safe game. The threats against Atkinson were the worst kept secret of the rally, and any suspicions about the situation were simply enhanced by the sight of the driver in sunglasses, even on a cloudy day, dressed in black overalls and driving a black and green car. Chris Atkinson could hardly have looked more sinister if he tried. Reports of strange goings-on abounded, including claims that the Mini team was using a competition licence to which they were not entitled. The FIA was evasive on the issue. Their official response: “Ask Motorsport Italia about licence issues” . The team did not want to help. The Mini Portugal team Head of Communications said: “I'm not involved in this kind of thing. It would be better to contact Bruno (de Pianto, team manager)” . We spoke to Bruno, who said “Ask our Head of Communications” . It all served to confirm there was a tricky situation. If there was any doubt an inflammatory situation was developing, a quick walk round the service park close to the team which was running Subhan Aksa, the Australian company who also run the MRF Asia-Pacific team, told you more. This was the team from which Atkinson had walked away, a championship he was leading, and they were far from impressed at their fellow countryman. At the end of the day, Atkinson had a good rally in Germany, the first time he had contested a WRC event for four years without going off the road at some time, his fifth place bringing Mini their best result this year since Dani Sordo’s second place at Monte Carlo. Last year, without any preliminary testing, Araujo had only finished eighth on that event. Will Atkinson still need his dark glasses and his bodyguards when he gets to Wales, and the Australian team whose Skoda he should have been driving that weekend is safely away at Rally Japan? OPINION – Martin Holmes The Tall Dark Stranger in Town OUTIN 16 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: