Published on May 13th, 2011

PROTON will start tomorrow’s International Rally of Queensland, the second round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) hoping to continue its good fortune in 2011 which currently places it and its drivers at the top of the championship point standings.

After a first and third placing at the season opener Malaysian Rally in April, PROTON currently leads the Manufacturers Championship with 35 points, and the newly-incorporated APRC teams trophy with 54 points. Its drivers Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae meanwhile, are also first and third in the drivers standings with 33 points and 21 points respectively.

An even bigger bonus for the Malaysian manufacturer is that it also leads the two-wheel drive manufacturer standings for the APRC Rally Cup, and the APRC Junior Championship after an outstanding debut by the Japanese-based Proton Cusco Rally Team whose drivers had raced a Group N Satria Neo to a one-two victory in Malaysia.

“After an encouraging start to the year in Malaysia, we are looking to build on that with a similar result in Australia. Australia is a very important market for PROTON and country with a very big sporting tradition. It’s nice that we go from competing on our home round of the championship in Malaysia to competing on Chris Atkinson’s home round of the championship,” said PROTON Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director Dato’ Sri Haji Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir.

Both Atkinson and McRae had demonstrated outstanding pace in the Satria Neo S2000 at last year’s event, winning all but two of the stages. Atkinson thrilled local fans with five fastest times from nine special stages completed on the opening day and a further six quickest times from eight special stages on the second day. Enroute to what looked like a text book finish, victory however, eluded PROTON with Atkinson’s car stalling in a water crossing while McRae was forced into retirement after hitting a large rock on the final day.

“There’s a real feeling in the team that we’re coming back to finish what we started in Queensland last year. We were really quick last time out, but we didn’t get the result. We want to change that this time,” said Atkinson.

“Competing in front of the home crowd does bring an extra element of pressure and expectation but nobody expects more from me than I do myself. The roads over here are really good, and it rewards big commitment from the driver, which is what you want. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big battle, particularly with Alister McRae. Alister was fast here last year, as he was in Malaysia earlier this year, so he’s certainly going to be one for us to watch.”

The rally has received a record entry of 96 cars, including 16 overseas participants, representing 10 countries. Run over three days, the rally will cover 19 special stages with a competitive distance of 230.79km driven over gravel.

McRae meanwhile, described the special stages as being a good mix of twisty and narrow sections and some double-width roads where drivers are able to really push.

“The car felt very, very impressive in Malaysia after the work the team had done to it over the winter and we’ll be looking to getting even more performance out of it in Australia. Chris Atkinson won in Malaysia and I would like to win here, but it’s not going to be easy to beat him with all the local support,” said the Scottish driver who now resides in Australia.

“We had some further testing done over the last two days and the Satria Neo S2000 appeared to be well suited for the conditions here, especially with more improvements made in terms of power delivery which is great.”

Added firepower for PROTON in the manufacturer’s battle in Australia will again come from the Proton Cusco Rally Team who will be fielding Japanese driver Akira Bamba – who won the class in Malaysia – and veteran and multiple APRC champion Karamjit Singh who is making his return to the championship.

Meanwhile, in a run-up to tomorrow’s rally, the Satria Neo S2000 was earlier pitted against a Eurocopter BK117 in a promotional “Rally Car versus Helicopter Race”, an event which PROTON had won last year. The race against a helicopter with twice the number of engines and five-times the power output, saw the Satria Neo S2000 narrowly beaten 3 to 2 runs down the runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport in Marcoola.

words & pix: PROTON


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