IRC2011: PROTON EYEING IMPACTFUL INTRODUCTION IN THE UKRAINE

Published on June 8th, 2011

Two of three Proton Satria Neo Super 2000 cars finished in the top 10 at the end of Leg 1 of the Prime Yalta Rally in the Ukraine, which is also round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC).

PROTON’s Giandomenico Basso was the highest placed in eighth position after the opening day’s two special stages and just 5.6 seconds adrift of current rally leader Belgian Thierry Neuville in the Peugeot 207 S2000. Team mate P-G Andersson was a further three seconds behind to round up the top 10 front runners which was dominated by a field of three Peugeot 207 S2000 and five Skoda Fabia S2000 cars.

Special stage 1 began in the outskirts of Yalta over a short 2.12km sprint before moving on to Livadija for the second special stage which was run over a distance of 5.49km.

PROTON’s third entry, piloted by Ukrainian rally star and former USSR rally champion Oleksandr Saliuk Sr meanwhile, rallied to a strong 18th overall from the total of 42 registered IRC competitors in his first time out in the Satria Neo S2000 and some 26.7 seconds down the order.

The three-day event sees PROTON fielding its strongest line-up to date in the IRC. Against the backdrop of the Crimea region’s Ai-Petri Mountains on the north coast of the Black Sea, the event, run in Mediterranean climate, consists of 14 special stages run entirely on asphalt over a combined distance of 721.61km. Leg 2 will consist of six special stages to be run on Friday while the third and final leg on Saturday will also be run over another six special stages.

“This is very important rally for significant two reasons. Firstly, as we get closer to mid-season, we would like to secure as many valuable points as we can to improve our standings in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Secondly, this will also be the first time the PROTON brand will be seen in the Ukraine. I am sure the cars will attract plenty of curiosity, and a strong performance here will undoubtedly make for a very powerful and impactful introduction in what is essentially another potential market for PROTON given the level of enthusiasm and support the brand has received so far in the IRC,” said PROTON Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director Dato’ Sri Haji Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir.

PROTON is currently fifth in the IRC Manufacturer’s standings with 16 points after three rounds.

New to the IRC calendar, the Prime Yalta Rally has leveled the playing field in some respect with teams not having the benefit of previous technical data to rely on. The rally’s changing weather conditions has also made it even more challenging with the varying levels of grip.

“This is everyone’s first time in the Ukraine. No one has the benefit of earlier pace notes, technical data and practice on these new stages. It’s going to be very interesting and challenging and coupled with rain in the evening, has certainly made it a great challenge in terms of grip,” said Head of PROTON Motorsports Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood.

“The Satria Neo S2000s have been through some testing and the drivers are pleased with the improvements on the cars.”

Meanwhile, PROTON’s signing of Oleksandr Saliuk Sr and co-driver Evgen Chervonenko has also set the stage for what has been defined as Ukraine’s most famous rallying partnerships and a historic moment for the nation’s rallying history.

Saliuk Sr and Chervonenko had won the USSR Rally Championship 20 years ago and are recognised as being among the region’s fastest drivers in their era. Saliuk Sr’s son Alexander had earlier been scheduled to drive the third Satria Neo S2000 but suffered a broken arm.

“It means a great deal to Evgen and I to be competing together 20 years after we first won the title in the USSR. This is a very important rally in the Ukraine and one which will attract the IRC’s fastest drivers. We are very excited about competing in front of the home crowd,” said Saliuk Sr.

Andersson meanwhile, is encouraged by the new improvements that have gone into the Satria Neo S2000.

“The handling of the car feels better and the engine is also improved. I can’t say where we might finish the event, but I am pretty sure we will be closer than we have ever been to the other competitors.”

words & pix: PROTON

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