The PROTON R3 Rally Team once again demonstrated the pace and potential of the SatriaNeo S2000 on last weekend’s Rally Hokkaido – with Alister McRae taking points after settingmore fastest times among the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship competitors.
McRae and his team-mate Chris Atkinson were both taken by surprise when they saw the nature of the roads used by the Japanese round of the APRC. The pair had been expecting fast but flowing roads, but they were faced with super-fast stages with long straight after long straight – the kind of roads which were going to play straight into the hands of their rivals driving turbocharged cars. Atkinson admitted the nature of the roads had changed considerably from when he collected a podium result on the World Rally Championship round which visited this area in 2005.
Despite being as much as 30kph down on their rivals down the long straights (due to the difference in specification of the cars), McRae led the APRC competition after the opening stage on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for the Scotsman. He suffered two punctures on the next stage, but drove heroically for 15 kilometres to contain the time loss to just 50 seconds, and then hit an unavoidable rock in the middle of the car’s underbody protection on SS6. When his Satria began to leak oil from the impact, he switched the car off. McRae and his co-driver Bill Hayes returned today (Sunday) and finished a trouble-free third over the course of day two.
Atkinson continued to level his learning curve in both the PROTON and the Super 2000 formula, posting competitive times before his Satria suffered an engine problem on the fifth stage. Given the high-speed nature of the stages, Atkinson’s car had been on the rev limiter in top gear for three kilometres in the test where the problem set in. The Australian also returned for more competition on Sunday, but retired before the finish. Now, Atkinson and co-driver Stephane Prevot are looking forward to the next event. The International Rally of Whangarei means a short hop across the Tasman Sea from his Queensland home to New Zealand for Atkinson.
Alister McRae said:
“We’ve taken points for the championship and we’ve shown how quick the car is again on this rally. I’ve been in and around this sport for a while now and I’ve seen these kind of times come and go for a team like MEM and the PROTON R3 Rally Team, it’s the ebb and flow of rallying. One thing is for sure, as much as I have known for any team, this team deserves and has the result coming. The guys are working absolutely flat out and we are going to win very soon – and when we do, we’ll all have earned it. But, when things aren’t going your way, they’re not going your way. We were leading APRC runner when we got two punctures. We drove 15 kilometres like that and did well to only lose 50 seconds or something like that. Unfortunately we then had to drive the short stage with a puncture as well. On the re-run of the long stage, we hit a rock right in the centre of the sumpguard. A few kilometres down the road the oil light came on and we switched it off. Nine times out of 10 you’d have got away with it, but, like I said, when your luck’s not in…
“We ran well on Sunday, when we re-started, and again set a fastest time in the APRC runners. We were third fastest through Sunday, and that was driving sensibly. This car and this team is overdue a result; for the sake of our championship aspirations, we need that to come next time out in New Zealand.”
Chris Atkinson said:
“The stages we used in Japan we quite different to the ones I remember from the World Rally Championship event, they had a lot more straights in them. We sat on the rev limiter in top gear for a minute on one stage – that’s so frustrating when you know that we’re doing 175kph and the Group N cars with their turbo are going at speeds up to 210kph. It’s also not the most interesting of challenges to be driving on straight roads. We had an engine problem with the car on Saturday when we were not far off the lead of APRC. This sport can be tough sometimes. But New Zealand is coming and we’ll be right back on it there – I’m already counting the days until we can launch the PROTON through those cambers: it’s going to be awesome.”
Datuk Razak (team director) said:
“Rally Hokkaido was Proton’s first outing in Japan. I think it’s fair to say we have made some friends there! The level of interest in the Satria Neo and the Super 2000 programme was fantastic. All of the time we had an incredible level of support from the local fans, there was even a group who flew up from Tokyo specifically to see our car, after they had heard so much about it. Our drivers Alister and Chris were in constant demand to sign autographs for their new-found fans; all-in-all Rally Hokkaido was a very positive experience for marketing and building the brand in Japan – and the car and drivers showed very good pace again.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“We came to Japan looking for the win and we haven’t got it. I’m not going to start making excuses, that’s not what we’re about. Instead, we’ll go away and further fine-tune what is clearly a very good car. Alister and Chris showed what the PROTON is capable of again here in Japan; Alister was leading the APRC standings after the first proper stage on Saturday. Nobody is working harder than us to win rallies and, at some point, our bad luck is going to turn around.”
Round: 2/7, FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Makubetsu, Tokachi
Liaison distance: 722.67km
Competitive distance: 220.97km
Total distance: 946.49km
Conditions: 15 degrees, overcast
Day one leader: Toshi Arai (J) Subaru
Winner: Toshi Arai (J) Subaru
International Rally of Whangarei, New Zealand (July 3/4)
Based in Whangarei, north of Auckland, the third round of this year’s FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship is always a firm favourite among the drivers. The heavily cambered, fast and flowing gravel roads which surround the rally’s base in New Zealand’s northernmost city are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Both PROTON drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson have driven these stages previously, and both will be chasing their maiden win in the Satria Neo S2000.