Expectations run high as PROTON kicks off its 2012 Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) campaign this weekend at the Brother International Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand.
Not only will PROTON start the season-opening rally as defending APRC manufacturer’s champion, but it will also return as the favourite to defend its outright victory in New Zealand last year.
Leading PROTON’s 2012 APRC campaign in the Satria Neo S2000 is reigning APRC champion Alister McRae. He will be joined by former double junior world champion PG Andersson who will be making his debut in the Championship.
PROTON will also field reigning 2WD APRC champion Karamjit Singh and defending APRC junior champion Akira Bamba in the PROTON Cusco Rally Team 1600cc Satria Neo. Joining the pair in New Zealand will be a third driver, Kenneth Koh, appearing in his first international rally in the 2WD APRC category. Koh won last year’s 2WD Malaysian Rally Championship (MRC) and is also the MRC junior champion – and at the age of 17 went on to become the youngest ever in Malaysian rallying history to be on the podium.
Rally of Whangarei will be run over 16 special stages over a competitive distance of 283.28km. Leg 1 on Saturday consists of eight special stages which include the longest in the rally at 32.11km and a 1.5km super special stage. The remaining eight special stages will be run on Sunday.
PROTON won Rally of Whangarei last year and also secured the top two places amongst the registered APRC contenders. PROTON also went on to clinch first and second places in the 2WD category with drivers Karamjit and Akira in the PROTON Cusco Rally Team 1600cc Satria Neo.
“It’s really exciting to be back in the APRC as defending champion and it’s a championship we know pretty well now – this will be our third year in the APRC. One of the great things about this series is its wide variety of events and the diversity of the roads we get to drive on – it’s fantastic,” said McRae.
“Last year the pressure was on trying to win the APRC. With that done, the pressure this year is on keeping the title. The Satria Neo S2000 has really proven itself from last year. The biggest gain, for me, is in the engine, which has got more torque lower down in the rev range; you can really feel the driveability in the medium-speed corners.”
For team mate Andersson, the opportunity to compete for PROTON in both the APRC and 2012 FIA Super World Rally Championship (S-WRC) will provide him with greater seat time in the Satria Neo S2000.
“People tell me the APRC series is a lot about experience, which is a bit tough for me as New Zealand is the first time I’ve ever competed on one of these rounds. But I’m not going to let that slow me down. I’ve got a hugely competitive spirit – as all drivers have at this level. I want to win every rally and championship I enter and this is no different,” said Andersson.
“The benefit I have this season is some great seat time in the Proton. I’ve done two rounds of the SWRC already this year and we’ve gone really well on both of them – winning my home round of the championship in Sweden meant a lot to me. The Satria Neo S2000 was absolutely faultless there. While this might be a new championship for me, I do have some idea of what to expect from round one; I have competed in New Zealand before and on some of the roads we will be using. They are the best stages in the world, without a doubt and I can’t wait to get the Proton on them.”
In 2011, PROTON became the first car manufacturer to win all eight major individual titles in the APRC which includes: the APRC Driver’s title; APRC Manufacturer’s title; the APRC Teams Trophy; the FIA Asia Cup Driver’s title; the FIA Pacific Cup Driver’s title; the Manufacturer’s title in the FIA APRC Rally Cup for 2WD category; the APRC Rally Cup Driver’s title; and FIA APRC Junior Cup Driver’s title.
“After last year’s performance, the expectations this year are certainly higher. We also expect the competition to be a lot stiffer with the inclusion of Skoda and several new drivers in the APRC. This, however, will only strengthen our resolve for 2012,” said Head of PROTON Motorsports, Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood.
“Often referred to as a challenging proving ground by some of the world’s leading rally drivers, the APRC circuit will also impart valuable experience and knowledge on Andersson, who will be making his debut in this year’s championship. Together with defending champion McRae, we have a strong pair in contention for this year’s Driver’s and Manufacturer’s titles.”
Meanwhile, PROTON’s Director of Group Marketing, Branding & Motorsports John D. Chacko said starting this year’s campaign on top of the APRC tables coincides with the launch of PROTON’s renewed export market initiative and the introduction of its first global car, the P3-21A
“In the last three years, we have clearly demonstrated our commitment to be better as a car manufacturer, brand and product. We rejoined the APRC in 2010 as an underdog, evolved to becoming a clear favourite in 2011 and now starting the 2012 season as defending champion. This has certainly earned us more fans and supporters both abroad and domestically, and above all, elevated the PROTON brand as a serious contender in the regional and global car markets.”
words & pix: PROTON