Apr 05, 2011

PROTON Motorsport celebrated one of its greatest rally success ever this weekend as the Malaysian manufacturer dominated its home round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, with Chris Atkinson winning the Malaysian Rally.

Based in Johor Bahru, the Malaysian fans were treated to a stunning display of power and control from Atkinson and his team-mate Alister McRae as the pair powered their PROTON Satria Neo S2000s ahead of everybody else on what is regarded as one of the toughest rallies in the world.

As usual, the heat played its part on this event, with the in-car temperatures rocketing. Fortunately, Atkinson and McRae were more than ready for their personal battle with the elements – and the PROTON was equally up for the enduring challenge posed by the twisty and technical stages.

Atkinson made a blistering start to the event. Content to play second fiddle on the spectator-pleasing dash around the Angsana suuperspecial, as soon as the event hit the real roads of the Kota Tinggi forest complex the Australian was in his element.

Fastest on the first gravel stage, the PROTONs were demonstrating commanding early pace by posting the first and second quickest time; Atkinson’s team-mate McRae being the only driver able to get close to the Queenslander’s scratch time.

The next stage meant another fastest time for Atkinson, his lead now more than half a minute at the front of the field. Unfortunately, SS3 proved more of a challenge for McRae and his co-driver Bill Hayes. The front of their Satria Neo S2000 became blocked by long grass, restricting the air-flow into the engine. Starved of cool air going through the radiator, the engine began to overheat, limiting the power available to the Scot.

McRae remained in touch throughout day one and moved back onto a provisional podium position on the sixth test.

Atkinson’s searing pace through Saturday was matched only by the temperature outside the Satria. Despite the heat and humidity – which led to in-car temperatures running in excess of 60 degrees – the PROTONs didn’t miss a beat. The leader won five of the six gravel stages on Saturday to dominate proceedings and build a lead of close to two minutes. With McRae’s Satria Neo S2000 just two places further back in third, the local fans were loud and proud of the Malaysian machinery which was dominating the front of their most important rally of the year.

After their thrilling and dominating drives through Saturday, Atkinson and McRae set about protecting their podium places on Sunday. The heroic pace and performance of day one, gave way to consistency and durability on day two. Atkinson suffered a right-rear puncture on the opening test, which cost him half a minute, but that was the only issue on day two. The PROTONs ran faultlessly to allow the Australian and the Scotsman to end the event in first and third places.

This was what the thousands of Malaysian motorsport fans had turned out to see: their car winning their rally. Two Satrias on the podium made for a sweet weekend.

PROTON won the final round of last year’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship and maintained that domination into 2011, with a hugely impressive display in Johor Bahru this weekend.

Chris Atkinson said: *
“This result has been coming for a while. Last year, we saw just how quick the car was in the APRC and now we’ve delivered the score which everybody in PROTON deserves. It was a shame Alister had his trouble on the first day, it would have been a great battle with him. In the end, we had to drive sensibly. We’d got a good lead from the first day and we could only lose it today [Sunday]. We weren’t willing to risk anything, so we just settled down and counted the stages off, especially after we dropped some time with a puncture on the first stage this morning. As a driver, you always want to be on the limit and racing, but this was a result for PROTON and the people of Malaysia. They have made us so welcome over the past week, to be able to take two places on the podium is a fantastic result for Chris [Mellors], the MEM team and all of PROTON. It’s the best possible way to start the season. As soon as we got into the car to drive it with the new suspension and engine, we knew it was going to be special. It was. Very special.”

Alister McRae said:
“This was a great result for the team, but it was obviously a little bit disappointing that I had the overheating problem yesterday. We were running pretty high up on the road and we got some grass caught in the radiator. When we saw the temperature going up, we slowed down until the temperature came down a little bit, then we would go again. The car has taken a really good step forward and there is more speed to come, but the engine and suspension already felt great on this rally. There’s no doubt this event was the toughest for the Super 2000 car. The tight corners don’t suit S2000 cars as much as the others, so to take a win here is fantastic. The next rallies will suit us much more, which makes the future very exciting for this car and this team. Obviously, a one-two was the dream, but first and third is a great result and a massive achievement for PROTON.”

Dato’ Sri Haji Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir (PROTON Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director) said:
“In a rally that was incredibly difficult, celebrating a victory and having two cars on the podium is absolutely rewarding for PROTON and the entire team, as much as it is a big boost to the brand and consumer appeal in our products. The results are also testament to all the testing, development, hard work and heart that have gone into building the PROTON Satria Neo S2000’s competitiveness. The Satria Neo S2000’s pace and performance in Malaysia forms a strong foundation for further development in preparation for the next round of the APRC which moves to Australia next month and five further very competitive rounds in 2011.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“When we saw the look on the drivers’ faces after the first test of the car this year, we knew this was possible. The team has worked so hard through the winter to make this happen. Both Chris [Atkinson] and Alister [McRae] have driven fantastically for this result. The PROTON Motorsports team has really pulled together for this result. The cars have been fantastic throughout the weekend. Obviously, with the guys taking a good lead over their nearest rivals into the second day, we talked about our approach, which was about delivering on the promise we’d shown yesterday. And we certainly did that on the rally which means the most to us all. And the good thing is that there is more to come from the car. We now look forward to the next Intercontinental Rally Challenge round [Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles] next month. But, for now, two Malaysian rally cars on the podium of Malaysia’s biggest rally of the season is the perfect result.”


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