International Rally of Whangarei preview
Jul 13, 2011
After dominating the first half of this year’s FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, PROTON Motorsports heads to New Zealand for next week’s fourth round of the series in the lead of the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.
The International Rally of Whangarei will plunge PROTON drivers Chris Atkison and Alister McRae into the middle of a Kiwi winter, but they don’t mind in the slightest. The North Island roads which make up the fourth round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship are, quite simply, some of the best on the planet. The heavily cambered stages allow the drivers to slingshot their cars through the corners, carrying more speed than ever before.
And, this being the sports-mad nation of New Zealand, the town of Whangarei really… goes to town when the rally arrives.
PROTON Motorsports scored a second place on this event last year and is desperate to place one of the two factory Satria Neo S2000s on the top step of the podium at the end of 16 gravel stages. While the road surface is smooth and generally kinder to the cars than in some other countries, two runs through the 40-kilometre Bull stage – and more than 300 competitive kilometres across the two days – ensure this event will be anything-but easy.
New Zealand is a fearsome place to come for any sporting contest – just ask any of the 19 teams heading to the Land of the Long White Cloud to face the legendary All Blacks in September’s Rugby World Cup. And in a town which will host some of that Rugby World Cup action, the battle for the International Rally of Whangarei will be just as fierce next week.
With two wins from three starts this season, Atkinson is ready for the battle ahead. The Australian could have arrived with a 100 per cent record, after dominating the early stages of APRC round two in his Queensland, Australia backyard. Atkinson’s team-mate McRae is also well-acquainted with winning, having taken success on the closing round of the 2010 series in China. Both PROTON Motorsports drivers are in with very good chance of taking this year’s coveted APRC title and no quarter will be given when they get started in New Zealand.
The Satria Neo S2000 has demonstrated devastating pace throughout the first half of this year’s APRC, courtesy of upgrades to the car from the Malaysian manufacturer, but the weather remains a factor which could upset a formbook favouring PROTON. Typically, temperatures range between five and 15 degrees in the Northland area of New Zealand at this time of the year, but rain can arrive in a moment, varying the conditions greatly from crew to crew.
Alister McRae said:
“These are classic stages. Names like Waipu Gorge and Batley are well known around the world for their tough nature, but also for the rewards they offer a driver who can get them right. I can’t wait to get started. The car’s feeling better and better this year and we’ve definitely got some more speed from it. That speed has come from the suspension and engine work the team has been doing since the start of the year. The new suspension has made the car more driveable, while giving better traction and feeling for the road. The engine has also improved driveability, with more power from lower down. Getting these things sorted has allowed us to spend more time fine-tuning things like the differential set-up and other things like that, which also make the car quicker. I would say the car has the pace to win everywhere this year and we’re now getting the kind of consistency which can make that happen. We’re going to be quicker in New Zealand this year than we were last year, because the car’s had another 12 months’ of development. Chris [Atkinson] and I will certainly be starting the event looking at nothing less than a win – as we do with every event.”
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