The PROTON Motorsports team scored valuable points and plenty of fastest stage times on its latest outing in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship, Rally New Zealand which ended in Auckland Sunday afternoon.
Two-time FIA Junior World Rally Champion P-G Andersson and reigning FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Champion Alister McRae were spearheading the challenge from the Malaysian manufacturer and the pair made the perfect start to the North Island event. Both drivers were immediately on SWRC podium pace, with Andersson setting a storming time through the opening stage to beat many of the World Rally Cars and post eighth quickest overall.
Having moved into a 15-second lead in just two stages – a lead which would have been considerably bigger if he hadn’t spun in SS2 – Andersson’s hopes of a second successive SWRC victory (he dominated Rally Sweden to win by three minutes in February) were dashed when he went off the road on the third stage.
McRae stepped up and remained firmly in the lead battle, with almost three minutes in hand over the third-placed car after as many stages. Unfortunately for the Scot, a glitch in the car’s wiring loom left him on the sidelines on the roads around Raglan, south of Auckland.
Both cars returned to the action at the weekend, setting more fastest times on the classic Northland gravel roads. McRae’s fourth place was lost to a clutch-release bearing failure late in the event.
After the sunshine, rain and showers of a typical New Zealand winter, the PROTON Motorsports team will now head home for the Malaysian Rally (July 12-14) where they will hope to repeat or even better the stunning first and third places they achieved on that rally last season.
P-G Andersson said:
“We have taken points for second place here, which is OK for the championship, but we could have won this rally. The car has never felt so good as it did on this rally. I had perfect balance and a great chassis and engine. Everything was going well for us early on in the event, we were fastest on the first two stages without pushing too hard, although we did have a spin on Whaanga Coast. Everything was feeling good in the next stage as well, but we had a pace note wrong for a medium-speed left-hand bend. We were too fast into the corner and, to be honest, I never really got the car into the bend before we went straight on and off the road. The car wasn’t damaged but it just wasn’t possible to get it back to the road. It’s really frustrating to go off at any time, but when you have such a good package in the car and you know you are going to be in with a shot at winning again, it’s really, really tough. We came back but then caught a rock on the last stage on Saturday and pulled the wheel off the car, which cost more time. Like I said, we got second place, but I really wanted first.”
Alister McRae said:
“It was great to be back on these roads again and having been down here earlier this year [for the International Rally of Whangarei], P-G and I both felt pretty happy ahead of the event. The car felt good from the start, but we then had a problem with the wiring loom which stopped the car. The team fixed the issue and we were able to run fastest in SWRC before a clutch-release bearing failed today. It was a little bit frustrating, because everything was feeling so good with the car, it had all looked pretty promising.”
Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
“The PROTON Motorsports team has shown great speed on this latest round of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship, especially on today’s stages. The roads closer to Auckland today are all new for the rally this year, and are quite different in nature from the rest of the route. Today is narrower, more twisty and more technical – yet the Satria-Neo S2000 and both P-G and Alister have been fastest. P-G deserved to win Rallye Monte Carlo, did win Rally Sweden and definitely showed the speed to win here in New Zealand. Taking second place away from this rally is going to help for P-G in his fight for this year’s FIA SWRC title.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“We go away from this rally with second place, which keeps P-G in the thick of the fight for the SWRC title. But the main positive from here, however, is the pace the cars have shown. Both of the guys have gone well; obviously it’s pretty frustrating that P-G went off the road on Friday morning, but what speed before he did go off – that was incredible to see the Satria-Neo S2000 up there beating the likes of Dani Sordo in a Mini World Rally Car. We know we’ve got the speed to win these events and now we’re really looking forward to Rally Finland in a couple of months. Having seen how quick the car is on these kind of fast gravel roads, it’s great news to know we have a Finn [Juha Salo] joining P-G in the team for our next SWRC outing.”
Round: 4/8, FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Based: Auckland, New Zealand
Liaison distance: 1,243.96km
Competitive distance: 413.94km
Total distance: 1,657.90km
Conditions: rain and sunshine, 15 degrees