Pace, performance and a podium finish for Proton

Published on July 7th, 2010

Malaysian manufacturer PROTON finished an exceptional second on the latest round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the International Rally Whangarei, which finished yesterday (Sunday) in New Zealand.

Australasian-based driver Alister McRae was overjoyed to deliver his PROTON R3 Rally Team Satria Neo S2000 to the podium finish of an arduous two-day event, run over the toughest of the North Island roads in typically changing Kiwi conditions.

Moments after celebrating a result which rockets both McRae and PROTON up the points tables in the Asia Pacific region’s pre-eminent rally series, the heroic driver paid tribute to his Satria Neo S2000.

“The car has been unbelievable,” said McRae. “This Proton is just fantastic, it’s one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever driven – and I’ve driven a lot of cars!”

Both McRae and his team-mate Chris Atkinson turned on the pace and performance to thrill the thousands of New Zealanders who were standing roadside to see PROTON’s strongest result of the season so far. Atkinson, who had hopped over the Tasman Sea from his home in Queensland, Australia, was immediately on the pace, setting an incredible time through the rally-opening Mititai stage. Atkinson’s Satria Neo S2000 managed a staggering average speed of almost 110kph for the 33-kilometre stage. The sister Satria Neo S2000 of McRae was just as quick.

Based in Whangarei, 160 kilometres north of Auckland, the weather on Saturday was generally warm and sunny – despite this being the middle of winter in the land of the long white cloud. But, day two showed the fickle nature of the New Zealand climate as the heavens opened and it rained all day. The rain made the gravel roads exceptionally slippery, offering the PROTON drivers the opportunity to demonstrate the sure-footed grip, handling and speed of the Satria Neo S2000.

Atkinson was untouchable through Sunday’s opener, beating the other drivers to the finish line of the rain-lashed test. In the day-two classification, both Satria Neo S2000s were running on the podium through the morning as the rest of the field were left trailing in their wake.

In the end, it was Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon (who contested the Asia Pacific Rally Championship round through a wildcard entry for the series) who kept McRae off the top step of the podium. McRae and PROTON were clearly the fastest of the APRC regulars.

“It’s been a fantastic result for us,” said McRae. “The Satria Neo S2000 has been really fast and absolutely reliable. We haven’t touched the car all weekend, and the team have not had to work on it at all. I have really enjoyed this rally, the roads were fantastic and all the better when you get to drive them in a car like the Satria Neo S2000.”

Atkinson was equally upbeat. He added: “When the car is running through these roads, it’s just unbelievable how much pace you can carry through the corners. This is definitely the car for the APRC. The Satria Neo S2000 is getting stronger and stronger and the best is yet to come.”

Having come so close to winning round one on the Malaysian Rally, the team gathered points in round two in Japan and has now hit the podium in round three here in New Zealand. “We are on the podium in Whangarei, which is great, but we want to take the next step – the step up to the top of the podium on the next round. And, with the hard work everybody is putting into this programme, that aim is totally realistic,” said McRae.

The next round in the APRC calendar is the International Rally of Queensland – Australia’s biggest rally of the season – which starts on the Sunshine Coast on July 31.

text & pix: Proton

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