After a blistering start to the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in New Zealand, the PROTON Motorsports team will be looking to repeat its superior pace and performance on this weekend’s second round, Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie.
PROTON drivers P-G Andersson (Sweden) and Alister McRae (Great Britain) were on great form on last month’s North Island opener, with Andersson setting comfortably the most fastest stage times and only missing out on the win after being forced to drive on a puncture for more than 20 kilometres. The team’s data shows Andersson lost one and a half minutes with that problem, yet he only missed out on the win by 30 seconds. Such speed has inspired confidence that PROTON can return to New Caledonia and repeat its victorious double podium of last season.
With this being Andersson’s first full year in the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, the two-time Junior World Rally Champion has not competed on many of the rallies on the schedule – and this will be his first time tackling the Pacific island event.
Based in Noumea on Grande Terre, the largest island in New Caledonia, the rally moves through the island’s beautiful lush vegetation and farming plains. One of the big features of this event is the fickle nature of the weather, particularly at this time of the year. Running in the southern hemisphere’s autumn, temperatures are dropping to around 20 degrees, but it’s the rain which often catches out the fastest rally drivers in the Asia-Pacific region. Grande Terre is a long and narrow island divided by a range of mountains running down the centre (two
peaks in which are higher than 1,600 metres) and this is enough to cause the kind of micro-climatic downpours which regularly wreak havoc with tyre choice.
While Andersson might not have competed on this rally before, his team-mate McRae led the event last season on his way to winning the 2011 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. The Scot will have plenty of advice for the Swede in the run up to round two.
And for those of you, like P-G, who are still not completely certain where the PROTON Motorsports Satria-Neo S2000s will be running next week, think around 1,500 kilometres east of Queensland and a little bit further north from the northernmost-tip of New Zealand. And that’s Noumea, home to around 100,000 of the native 250,000 New Caledonians.
P-G and Alister will be looking to give all quarter of a million plenty to cheer as PROTON rolls into the capital city for the island’s biggest motorsport event of the year. The Malaysian manufacturer is hunting for a second win in as many years and a more fitting return than the opening round.
Alister McRae said:
“We led this rally last season and it’s definitely one that I enjoy. In places the roads are really wide and fast, quite similar to the roads in Argentina, but then there are some other parts of the route which are really twisty and tight. The road surface changes quite a lot as well, with the clay-based roads becoming extremely slippery when it rains. And it does seem to rain quite a lot. I’ve been checking the weather over there quite a bit recently and it seems like there’s been a fair bit of rain in the run-up to the event. Winning the championship last year means I am first on the road on all the rounds this year and that was quite a disadvantage on the first round in New Zealand, but I don’t think it will be so much in New Caledonia. The rain is likely to have washed away much of the loose gravel from the surface before we get there and it’s possible running at the front might even give us a small advantage.”
P-G Andersson said:
“I have never been to this rally before, so it’s always exciting to try some new roads. I have to be honest here and say that I wasn’t completely sure where New Caledonia was before I knew we would be starting this rally – now I know more about the place and the rally. I have watched some videos from previous events, but nothing compares with the experience of actually getting into the stages on the recce. One thing I would be fairly sure of is that the roads won’t be so fast as they were on the first round in New Zealand. That’s a shame, I feel I go better on the faster stages, but let’s see. One thing is sure, I’m starting this event as I start every event – to win.”
Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
“On the International Rally of Whangarei, P-G Andersson put up a good fight, but despite clocking fastest time on 11 out of the 16 stages he came in second after losing more than one minute in the longest stage with a puncture. Despite that setback, P-G clawed the time back in exciting style and with great pace to reduce the deficit to less than 30 seconds at the finish. We have demonstrated the Satria S2000 is able to match the Skoda and, with better luck, the Satria S2000 should be able to spring some surprises on the Rally of New Caledonia. As we progress and commit ourselves to be better, we are confident the team combination of P-G Andersson and Alister McRae will come through with a win in New Caledonia.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“The whole team is raring to go in New Caledonia. We felt a little bit short-changed by the opening round in New Zealand; the PROTON was the fastest car across the spread of the event and had it not been for one puncture I think P-G [Andersson] would have controlled the rally from the front. What was very encouraging from the opening event was the way P-G came back from that and, without really extending himself or the car, posted fastest time after fastest time. And that’s why we’re excited about this event, we know we have the speed, the car and the team to win. This is an event which can be all about experience, especially if the rain comes in and the grip level is constantly changing and that’s where a driver like Alister [McRae] really comes into his own; he has a fantastic ability to drive around the most treacherous of conditions and I’m sure he and P-G will be doing just that when we get to New Caledonia. Car-wise, we have done more differential and suspension testing which brings an improved set-up for the second round of the APRC.”