Brother International Rally of Whangarei preview
Mar 26, 2012
The PROTON Motorsports team begins the defence of five of its seven* 2011 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship titles on next week’s Brother International Rally of Whangarei (New Zealand).
After a super-successful season where PROTON won everything it entered in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, the Malaysian manufacturer has redoubled its efforts to maintain that dominance of rallying in the Asia-Pacific region. And last year’s hero, flying Scot Alister McRae (co-driven by Bill Hayes) is back to lead the 2012 attack – joined for the first time in the APRC by Sweden’s P-G Andersson (co-driven by Emil Axelsson).
Running earlier in the year than in 2011, the now season-opening Brother International Rally of Whangarei holds good memories for PROTON, with the Malaysian manufacturer taking a one-two APRC finish on last year’s event.
The Satria-Neo S2000, which has become the benchmark machine in what is one of the FIA’s most technically challenging and tough regional championships, has undergone significant development since the end of the 2011 season.
Alongside its APRC commitment, PROTON Motorsports is also contesting the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship and the success achieved on the first two SWRC rounds is a reflection of the hard work put in through the winter. Had it not been for a freak under-bonnet fire, while seven minutes ahead on Rallye Monte-Carlo, Andersson would have dominated both S2000 WRC rounds to date. As it is, a comfortable victory, on round two in the snow at home, made up for any disappointment in the principality.
This year’s APRC will take the crews through six of the most challenging rallies anywhere in the world. Starting from the smooth and fast stages of New Zealand’s North Island, PROTON Motorsports and its title challengers will move on to New Caledonia, Queensland, Malaysia, Japan and China where they will face some of the hottest, wettest and roughest roads around.
But next week, it’s all about New Zealand’s Northland and an event which runs through the beautiful Whangarei and Kaipara districts. The heavily cambered roads make these stages among the best-loved anywhere in the world, inviting the drivers to attack the apex while delicately balancing the car on the crown of the road. Stunning to watch from the outside, the rhythm from the inside the Satria-Neo S2000 will be mesmeric as McRae and Andersson power their way through the southern hemisphere autumn.
The event itself consists of two loops of eight stages. Among those eight are classics such as Waipu Gorge, Bull and Cassidy – all legends in the world of rallying. Central service is run out of Whangarei, New Zealand’s northernmost city. Briton McRae, will feel at home in Whangarei – safe in the knowledge that his countryman and explorer James Cook was the first European to sail into the harbour. Yorkshireman Cook is most famous Down Under for being the first person to circumnavigate both islands which constitute Aotearoa, Maori for the land of the long white cloud.
The Brother International Rally of Whangarei, which starts from the centre of the city on Friday (March 30) at 1700, is also the first event for the PROTON team and DMACK Tyres. Chinese firm DMACK will be supplying the Satria-Neo S2000s throughout the APRC season.
Close to 300 years after Cook’s departure from Whangarei, McRae will arrive and look to conquer all in chapter one of his APRC title defence next week.
Alister McRae said:
“Last year the pressure was on to win the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. With that done, the pressure this year is on keeping the title. It’s really exciting to be going back 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. And it’s absolutely fantastic to be driving those roads in the PROTON Satria-Neo S2000. The car has really come on 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. There’s going to be a great fight in this year’s championship. The main competition, I’m sure will come from P-G [Andersson, team-mate]. P-G might not have been to these rallies before, but that’s really not going to slow him down. He will be quick everywhere. The MRF boys are probably going to be quite quick as well, we’ll have some fun with them…”
- The Brother International Rally of Whangarei is not a round of the FIA Asia Cup for Drivers or Co-drivers, won by McRae and Hayes in 2011. The FIA Asia Cup runs on the last three rounds of the APRC; the FIA Pacific Cup runs on the first three rounds of the APRC.
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