PROTON Motorsports has ended a fine debut season with second place in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship after an astonishing run of six podiums and two wins from seven events.
The Malaysian manufacturer took second and fourth places in SWRC standings of Rally de Espana, which ended in Salou this evening (Sunday). P-G Andersson was the runner-up, having led the event on the opening leg, while Alastair Fisher turned in an impressive debut in the second Satria-Neo S2000, taking fourth at the end of the World Rally Championship’s only true mixed-surface rally.
Having won two rallies, Andersson arrived in Spain among the favourites to take what would have been his third world title – but he missed out finishing just nine points shy of Craig Breen’s winning total. P-G’s co-driver Emil Axelsson did, however, win the co-drivers’ SWRC title.
The Spanish SWRC round turned out to be a fittingly challenging finale to what has been a thrilling season of competition. Heavy rain arrived in the Tarragona hills on the eve of the opening day, leaving the crews struggling for grip in some of the most treacherous conditions of the year.
But, by the time the PROTONs arrived on the seafront in Salou on Friday evening, the rain had stopped, allowing P-G and Alastair to thrill the thousands of fans who had turned out to watch the town centre test. P-G set a blistering pace through Friday morning, but slipped back from the lead when he was caught out on Friday afternoon, spinning the car and dropping time to Breen with resultant suspension damage.
The PROTON team switched the cars from asphalt to gravel specification for the weekend, but the gap was simply too big between first and second and the two-time Junior World Rally Champion remained where he was. The cars ran faultlessly through the super-quick switchback Catalan asphalt stages, allowing P-G to maintain the team’s exceptional run of podium results in its debut season of Super 2000 rallying’s highest level.
P-G Andersson said: “I wanted to win, that’s the result we came here for. We came close, we were second, but that’s not enough. Things looked good on Friday morning, but this wasn’t our result. It was quite frustrating sitting in second place, knowing the title was slipping away. I want to congratulate Craig. He’s had a really hard year and to win the championship, good for him. And I want to thank my team as well. PROTON has worked hard all the way through the SWRC.We have made some really big steps with the Satria this season and the car is quick and we’ve won some rallies, but sometimes the sport doesn’t go quite the way you want it to. The weather made the conditions really hard on Friday and we had some pressure after we had a small problem, but when we had the spin on Saturday we dropped time and broke the steering – after that it was going to be hard work. But, hey, the season’s finished now. We will look forward from here and there’s always something to look forward to with PROTON, the enthusiasm from the team and the manufacturer is fantastic.”
Alastair Fisher said: “I was pretty frustrated on Friday when I had the problem, but after that it’s been getting better and better all the time. I don’t think I’d fully understood how long it would take to get to grips with a completely new car. On a pretty fundamental level, the layout of the car inside is different; buttons for things like the windscreen wipers are in different places – and we certainly needed those on Friday! And the way the car drove was quite different from the other Super 2000 cars I’ve been in, but I have to say I loved it. The chassis was fantastic and gave me great confidence straight away. I had never been to this event before and I wanted to be pushing from the start and I felt happy to do that in this car. I’ve done a couple of events in a S2000 car this year, but I haven’t been in one so much and maybe that showed up against a field with drivers in it who have been in these cars consistently. The PROTON team has done a great job with the Satria and it was an amazing opportunity for me to come here with a manufacturer and take the step up from the WRC Academy level. Having had a taste of driving at this level, I definitely want to do more of it!”
MEM team principal Chris Mellors said: “We set our stall out right from the start, we were going all-out to win this event and, to that end, P-G made an excellent start. He was setting a tremendously impressive pace, but it didn’t go for us. We have to say congratulations to Craig, he’s earned the title this year under some of the toughest conditions imaginable. I’ve been very pleased with what Alastair did in the car as well. He came here with high expectations of himself, but this was his first time in the car and he did a very good job. Once he settled himself down and got on with the driving, he was good – he set good times and didn’t put a mark on the car. I’m happy with Alastair and I’d like to talk to him some more about the future. He’s a very sensible and quick lad. For PROTON, we’re definitely looking to be back here and fighting to go one better next year. This has been our first season in this series and two wins and six podiums from seven starts is not a bad first effort. Emil (Axelsson, Andersson’s co-driver) is the SWRC co-driving champion, so we congratulate him on that.”
Emil Axelsson said: “It’s good to win a world title. It’s been a great year with P-G and PROTON with some really big battles. And this rally was the same, we started so well and made some really good times, but this was one of the toughest rallies – especially on Friday!”
Event data Round: 8/8,
FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Based: Salou, Spain
Stages: 18 Surface: gravel/asphalt
Liaison distance: 986.27km
Competitive distance: 405.46km
Total distance: 1391.73km