The PROTON R3 Rally Team is gearing up for what’s likely to be one of the biggest weekend’s of the season, when native Queenslander Chris Atkinson, Australia’s fastest and most successful rally driver, takes on all-comers in Malaysia’s fastest rally car: the Satria Neo S2000 on next week’s International Rally of Queensland.
And, as if that wasn’t enough for Australian rally fans to get excited about, PROTON’s other driver, Alister McRae also hails from those shores these days. McRae might be Scottish born, but he now lives in Perth, Western Australia. The scene is set for PROTON to enjoy what’s locally known as a ‘ripper’ of a weekend.
The stunning PROTON Satria Neo S2000s which are competing on this year’s Asia Pacific Rally Championship haven’t been quiet for long. Since McRae finished second APRC runner on the International Rally of Whangarei at the start of the month, the rally cars have been shipped from New Zealand to Australia while the team members flew back around the world to embark on an exhausting test schedule. The test Satria has been around the team’s test track in Britain countless times, clocking up in excess of 1,000 kilometres while developing the car ahead of the fourth round of the series.
The International Rally of Queensland takes place just north of Brisbane on Australia’s east coast. The event’s rally headquarters are beachside overlooking the stunning Coral Sea, but the main event takes place just inland, based around the town of Imbil. It’s on the forest roads surrounding the service park in Imbil that the event will be won and lost. Fortunately for PROTON, Atkinson, who lives south of the rally’s base in Gold Coast, knows a thing or two about this event having won it in the past.
Having demonstrated the huge potential of both himself and the Satria Neo S2000, by setting fastest times in the APRC, since signing for PROTON at the start of the season, Atkinson is keen to give his home fans plenty to cheer when he starts the first stage next Friday (July 30) night.
McRae needs no introductions in this part of the world, or indeed anywhere else on the planet. The former World Rally Championship star’s speed is just as sharp as ever and, having come so close on two previous rounds, he too will be chasing a first APRC win of 2010.
The drivers are both in Australia and will test their Satria Neo S2000s, which have been fitted with upgrades since the last event, on Tuesday next week. They will then complete their reconnaissance run through the stages on Thursday, before a final shakedown test on Friday morning. Just a few hours after that and part four of PROTON’s Asia Pacific Rally Championship adventure gets going.
Alister McRae said:
“My experience of competing at this sort of level in Australia is limited to the Perth-based Rally Australia, so I don’t know too much about this event. Fortunately, my team-mate [Chris Atkinson] is a native Queenslander who has competed on this rally twice before – so I’m sure he’s going to fill me in with all the details; although I’m taking everything he says with a pinch of salt: he told me the rally was just like Corsica! Seriously, though, you always know when you come to Australia for an event that it’s going to be a great one. Rally Australia was always one of the best rounds of the world championship and I have no doubt Australia’s APRC round will be just as well organised and well received, we all know how much Australians love their sport.
“There’s a good feeling around the team ahead of this event. Since New Zealand, Chris [Mellors] and the team have been busy testing new engine and suspension components to iron out the gremlins which were there and, of course, we arrive in Australia on the back of finishing second in Asia Pacific Rally Championship standings last time out in New Zealand. What we’re looking for this time around is to go one better and to end Sunday standing one step higher on the podium.”
Chris Atkinson said:
“I’m really looking forward to competing at home again in Queensland next week, there’s always something extra special; a buzz about being at home. I’ve won this rally before and I want to do that again next week. I haven’t won anything for a while and it would be great for the team if we could pull the result together. I don’t think competing at home necessarily puts more pressure on me, I put enough pressure on myself anyway: Queensland is my home event, but it’s just another rally as far as I’m concerned and another rally I’m determined to do well on. The priority for us has to be to land some big Asia Pacific [Rally Championship] points, that’s the first objective. I think we saw on the last round just how much potential the car has got and, after three weeks’ of solid hard work from the team back in the UK, I expect we will be able to unlock some more of that potential in Australia. The roads, from what I can remember, are very good. They’re inland from the coast, so it could be pretty chilly in the morning, but they’re in the forests. The trees are pretty close to the road, but it’s a good, hard surface with plenty of grip around; providing it stays dry, that is. The one thing we know for sure is that it’s going to be another big fight. As well as the APRC guys, there are going to be some quick local guys down there as well.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“We’ve had a really busy time since returning from the last Asia Pacific Rally Championship round in New Zealand. We have been working non-stop on developing the car, which has meant driving the Satria Neo S2000 in excess of 1,000 testing kilometres. All of that time, the engineers have been replicating the conditions in which we have suffered failures: over-revving the engine on downshifts, sitting the engine on the rev limiter for long periods of time. Believe me, it hurts to do this kind of thing and it sounds horribly painful for the car, but the engine has withstood everything we could throw at it. But now it’s time for the big test, the next event. We’re all feeling confident in the progress we have made and we’re feeling very happy about the next rally, not least because it’s Chris’s home event.
“Of course, going to a driver’s home event does add some more pressure, but at the same time it’s going to help us to have a driver who knows their way around. Queensland is not an event we or Alister [McRae] have done before, so Chris’s knowledge of the rally, the surface, the type of stages and that kind of thing is going to help us tremendously.”
Source: Team Release