PROTON: Rally Hokkaido Preview

PROTON Motorsports is walking tall right now: five miles high, in fact. And travelling quickly: close on 1,000kph, in fact. This is the Japanese leg of the team’s Europe-Asia-Europe three-week trip. This week, it’s all about Rally Hokkaido and the penultimate round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.

Having demonstrated further developments in the Satria Neo S2000 in the world’s most competitive Super 2000 series (the Intercontinental Rally Challenge) earlier this weekend, the team has left Rallye Sanremo and Italy behind and is bound for the Far East and a possible FIA rally title or two in Japan.

The PROTON Motorsports team has dominated this year’s FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, winning three from four rallies. A further demonstration this week would likely put the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships beyond the reach of the Malaysian firm’s competitors. But, nothing is being taken for granted. Despite taking three planes to fly the 11,469 kilometres between Nice airport (closest to Sanremo) via London/Tokyo and Obihiro, the team is more focused than ever on realising the potential they have been building all season.

PROTON Motorsports will land in Obihiro in the early hours of Tuesday morning and drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson will immediately begin testing the two Satria Neo S2000s in preparation for the Japanese gravel roads that lie ahead.

Rally Hokkaido is based, as the name suggests, on Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost island. After the bustle of Tokyo and its 12 million city dwellers, the open countryside and woodland of the beautiful province of Tokachi come as a welcome relief. And it’s fast and flowing gravel stages are a real treat for rally drivers from all across the world.

The fans in Japan are as dedicated and educated as anywhere else on PROTON’s season-long global tour. And, despite the region’s chilly pre-dawn autumn temperatures, they will stand outside to cheer on their heroes: Atkinson-san and McRae-san.

Weather-wise, anything could be on the cards this week. The rally region is famed for featuring some of the highest summer temperatures – with the mercury (if it was used any more) rising towards 40 degrees on occasion. And in the winter, it can go almost as far the opposite side of freezing point. Rikubetsu, the location of service on day one, is one of Japan’s coldest towns.

|Meteorology done, nine time zones overflown, cars ready, drivers ready, PROTON Motorsports is absolutely ready for part two of it’s tri-rally, inter-continental September-October challenge. Part three is Rally of Scotland, starting 10,078 kilometres away, four days after Rally Hokkaido finishes.

For now, five short days after PROTON switched the glorious-sounding Satria Neo S2000s off, they will burst into life again. On the other side of the world. And in pursuit of Federation International Automobile excellence.

Ciao Sanremo. Konnichiwa Hokkaido.


Chris Atkinson said:

“I like Japan, it’s a great country and the rally has always been a very big challenge for us – and this week’s going to be no different. It is possible for us to win the championship here, but I’m honestly not  thinking about that at all. We’re completely focused on the event itself. The car has been really strong in APRC this season, helping us to win three from four and to lead the fourth event as well. The priority for us this week is to get the cars to the finish to make sure PROTON gets the maximum points in the FIA APRC manufacturers’ championship. And if we stay ahead of the Mitsubishis, it’s not going to hurt our own aspirations in the drivers’ race either.”

Alister McRae said:

“We found last year that this is a pretty tough event for Super 2000 cars, with a lot of very long straights. The team, has made some changes to the gear ratios this time around, so we will have a higher top speed. At the same time, we’re always going to struggle to match the higher speed of the conventional Group N cars with their turbochargers. But that’s not going to stop us trying. I enjoyed this event last year and led it for a while. We’re targeting a win in Japan, but as well as the local drivers, I think our biggest rival could be the Australian guy in the other yellow car! Chris [Atkinson] has had a very good year and he’s going to be tough for us to beat. But, if we want the championship, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:

“There’s a really strong feeling in the team right now, everything is really coming together well for PROTON. We showed a striking step forward in terms of pace in Sanremo last weekend and now we want to capitalise on that in Japan this week. The priority for the team and Chris [Atkinson] and Al [McRae] is to bring home points for PROTON. There’s no question of us slowing one of the drivers down to favour the other one; we’re here for the sport and we’re here for the competition. The drivers will be allowed to fight for the drivers’ championship. Once again, with this rally done, we will be packing up and heading straight to the airport to catch the first flight back to Europe for Rally of Scotland. The travelling the team is doing right now is unbelievable, but when the cars and drivers are showing the speed we’re showing, more time on an aeroplane is a small price to pay.”

Event data

Round: 5/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship

Based: Obihiro, Japan

Stages: 19

Surface: gravel

Liaison distance: 777.72km

Competitive distance: 222.89km

Total distance: 1,000.61km

Pre-event press conference: Press office, Obihiro (Friday September 30, 1500)

Post-event press conference: Press office, Obihiro (Sunday October 2, 1800)

Time difference: Japan is GMT+9hrs

Event timetable

Friday September 30

Start Kita Aikoku                               1847

SS1 SSS Obihiro (1.20km)               1900

Saturday October 1

SS2 Ashoro Long 1 (19.84km)        0803

SS3 New Kunneywa 1 (28.41km)  0832

SS4 Rikubetsu Long 1 (4.63km)     0925

Service Rikubetsu                             0932

SS5 Ashoro Long 2 (19.84km)        1113

SS6 New Kunneywa 2 (28.41km)  1142

SS7 Rikubetsu Long 2 (4.63km)     1235

Service Rikubetsu                             1242

SS8 Ashoro Long 3 (19.84km)        1423

SS9 New Kunneywa 3 (28.41km)  1452

SS10 SSS Obihiro 2 (1.20km)          1810

SS11 SSS Obihiro 3 (1.20km)          1819

Service Kita Aikoku                           1825             

Sunday October 2

SS12 Otofuke 1 (6.29km)                0557

SS13 Pawse Kamuy 1 (9.98km)     0715

SS14 Honbetsu 1 (10.78km)                       0813

SS15 Pawse Kamuy 2 (9.98km)     0936

Service Kita Aikoku                           1116

SS16 Otofuke 2 (6.29km)                1253

SS17 Pawse Kamuy 3 (9.98km)     1411

SS18 Honbetsu 1 (10.78km)                       1509

SS19 SSS Obihiro 4 (1.20km)          1632

Finish Kita Aikoku                             1640


Photos:Marcel Stawiczny

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