The PROTON Motorsports team collected its fifth successive podium finish in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship on last week’s Rallye de France. Swedish star P-G Andersson’s third place on the Strasbourg-based event was enough to ensure he goes into the final round of the SWRC among the favourites for the title. That final round is the Catalunya Rally (November 8-11).
The penultimate SWRC round of the season ran through the home region of France’s most famous rally driver: eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb. Hundreds of thousands of fans turned out to cheer their hero on to victory and a ninth successive title in Alsace last week. The asphalt stages varied widely across the spread of the event, ranging from three tight and twisty town and city stages in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Haguenau to the super-quick racetrack-style roads running through the Vosges mountains and into the Black Forest.
The notoriously fickle weather also delivered as well, with the warm and dry conditions on days one and two giving way to heavy rain on the final morning. That heavy rain left the drivers tip-toeing their way across a surface shorn of grip and second-guessing the location of standing water ready to send them aquaplaning into a ditch in a split second. Andersson and his PROTON team-mate Andreas Aigner (Austria) mastered the conditions to place their Satria-Neo S2000s third and fourth at the finish of the event.
Andersson’s rally was going to plan with the two-time Junior World Rally Champion and SWRC leader coming into Strasbourg driving sensibly, without taking any risks. He was running in a comfortable podium place when he suffered a slow puncture on SS13 followed by an alternator problem on SS14. Andersson returned on the final day and collected third place, which was enough to ensure he heads to the final round just two points off the series leader.
Former Production Car World Rally Champion Aigner was fourth after a solid debut in the second Satria. The Austrian admitted it had taken him time to get used to the different driving style required for S2000, having spent much of his career driving more standard Group N machinery.
Quotes: P-G Andersson said: “We had a plan when we came to this event. It was a long rally and one where we knew there would be a high rate of retirement, so we decided to play ourselves in and not take too many risks. We were doing that, driving sensibly without any trouble. The one small thing we did have was the gear ratios in the car were a little bit long, we struggled to get to the rev limiter which maybe cost us some speed coming out of the corners, but it was okay. Then we had the problem with the alternator and we had to stop. We came back today (Sunday) and got the third place which keeps us right in the middle of the championship. It’s going to be a big battle in Catalunya, that’s for sure – I can’t wait to get there!”
Andreas Aigner said: “This was not such an easy rally coming from so many events in a Group N car. Everything was so different – even the noise inside the car! But I made it to the finish and I did the job which the team have asked me to do. I made some changes to the car halfway through the second day, which meant the car was oversteering less, after that I found the car easier to drive and I really enjoyed the event. This morning was tough, when the weather became wet, the grip was always changing and we had to be really careful. For my first time in S2000, I really enjoyed the rally, it was a fantastic experience to drive for the team.”
MEM team principal Chris Mellors said: “There’s no doubt that this has been a very tough round of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship, but the positive for us is that we are very much still in the fight for the title. P-G drove very well through the event, nothing dramatic and sticking to the plan. I’m disappointed with the problem on the second day, but that’s the sport sometimes. He came back and dealt with some really tough conditions this morning to take third at the finish. Andreas went in fourth after a very solid job first time out in the car. He did what we asked from him, bringing the car to the finish without a mark on it. We look ahead to Spain from here. That event [Rally Catalunya] is going to be a tremendously exciting with the winner taking all in SWRC.”
Event data Round: 7/8
FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Based: Strasbourg, France
Liaison distance: 983.59km
Competitive distance: 404.90km
Total distance: 1388.49km