PROTON Motorsports returns to the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) on this week’s Malaysian Rally. And the Malaysian manufacturer is more determined than ever to deliver in front of its home fans.

After concluding last year’s APRC with a series win in China, the PROTON team has worked solidly through the winter on the Satria Neo S2000. And, when they drove the new car for the first time, PROTON’s Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson were delighted. Both of them know they’ve got the ideal car for this year’s championship and now they want to make the most of it.

The Asia-Pacific Rally Championship is one of the world’s toughest, which is why it’s sanctioned by the governing body of world motorsport; if you want an FIA title and the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the winner of the FIA World Rally and Formula 1 World Championship at the awards ceremony in Monaco, you’ve got earn it. And earning it for PROTON, McRae and Atkinson starts right here in Johor Bahru, Malaysia this week.

The Malaysian Rally gets under way with a ceremonial start on Friday afternoon. The crews will play themselves in with a crowd-pleasing superspecial stage around the rally’s base at the Angsana Complex – the first of its kind on this event. But, for the weekend, the rallying gets hotter and much, much tougher.

The forests and plantation roads of the Kota Tinggi region, north-east of Johor Bahru, will host the fastest cars and drivers in the Asia-Pacific region on what will be a typically gruelling Malaysian Rally. The gravel tests are some of the most twisty and technical on the calendar; the cars will rarely be in the top half of the gearbox as they wind their way through this beautiful countryside. Physically, there is no bigger challenge than this. Allied to rocketing temperatures, the high level of humidity and lack of air flowing into the cars will have a major effect on the crews. Dehydration and exhaustion regularly take their toll on drivers and co-drivers in Malaysia. The PROTON crews have pushed themselves to the limit in their preparation for this event – and the team have done the same with the car.

The Satria Neo S2000 is running with a revised suspension set-up, using Reiger Racing Suspension for the first time – and different characteristics in the engine. The two-litre motor produces more than 300 horsepower and offers consistent torque throughout the rev range.

Running in a tropical climate, there remains the threat of rain in the region and, when it comes, it can change the nature of the event in an instant. When wet, grip levels on the roads are slashed, forcing the drivers to rely on their talent and the car’s ability to find traction to get them to the end of the stage. And there are no drivers in this year’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship as qualified to deal with the tricky conditions as McRae and Atkinson; between them, they have years of experience of rallying at the highest level. And, pre-season testing has shown, they’re as fast as ever. And more than ready to deliver on PROTON’s biggest rally outing of the year.

Quotes:
Chris Atkinson said:

“The car felt absolutely fantastic in the test. The change of suspension and alterations to the engine have really honed the whole package. The new Reiger suspension immediately gives you great confidence in placing the car on the road, we’re getting better traction and the improved damping is lessening the impact strain on the other areas of the car. When you have more confidence in the car you’re able to relax more driving it, everything flows much better and feels more natural. That’s where we’re at with the PROTON. You really need that kind of feeling on an event like the Malaysian Rally as well. This is such a tough physical challenge that you need everything to be working to get the best out of yourself. We’ve trained really hard for the event and during the rally the major thing is to stay hydrated and keep the core body temperature down. We’ll drink plenty of water and rehydration fluids to help us maintain concentration and avoid the kind of muscle cramps you can get if you do become dehydrated. We’ve had a great lead into this event, seeing so many of the PROTON employees and fans has been amazing. It really makes you realise how much the rally programme means to the company.”

Alister McRae said:
“There’s no doubting the challenge of the Malaysian Rally, it’s one of the toughest around. It’s amazing when you’re driving in these kind of conditions, it’s so hot and so humid. My co-driver [Bill Hayes] and I have been spending a lot of time on exercise bikes in a heat chamber to prepare ourselves, which seems to have worked, but the real test will be when the event starts. This isn’t a particularly fast and flowing event, there are lots of tight corners. But, after the great work the team have done in altering the characteristics of the engine, we’ve now got more torque lower down the revs, which will help to fire us out of those tight corners. We led this event last year and I really think we’ve got what it takes to win in Malaysia and that goes for the whole championship. I’d be very disappointed if Chris [Atkinson] and I aren’t battling all the way for the title. The commitment put into this car from MEM and PROTON is tremendous and Bill and I have matched that 100 per cent; I feel as excited and determined as I ever have done starting a new year. I love driving rally cars and I can’t wait to get going with this one.”

Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
"There is no greater honour for PROTON than to be competing in front of our home fans. PROTON is a proud Malaysian car manufacturer of 25 years and the passion and performance we see in the PROTON Satria Neo S2000 is testament to the qualities we hold dear as a company. I am hugely excited to see Chris [Atkinson] and Alister [McRae] competing on our home stages and I'm hoping they will do PROTON proud with podium finishes. We must remember, however, there will be fierce competition from drivers like Mark Higgins, Cody Crocker, Katso Taguchi, Gaurav Gill and local ace Karamjit Singh. The Satria Neo S2000 is a high quality and high-performing motor car and we're all eager to see it in action this week."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“I think this is the most excited I’ve been coming into the start of a season. The MEM team has worked very, very hard on this car and, from what we’ve seen in pre-season testing, we’ve come out with a strong and high-performance rally car. We had a year of learning with the PROTON Satria Neo S2000 last season and now we’re ready. It’s fantastic to come here to Malaysia, the home of PROTON, and see the real passion for the programme all around the country, not just in the PROTON factory, but nationwide. And now we have to deliver to those fans. On a practical level, the Malaysian Rally is a tough way to start the season. It’s one of the hardest events in the world, let alone the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, but challenges like this are why we are in the sport. And it’s not only the rally that’s tough, either – there is, as always, some fierce competition out there in this year’s APRC. But our drivers are delighted with the car and they’re ready for the year ahead.”

Event data:
Round: 1/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Kota Tinggi, Johor Bahru
Stages: 15
Liaison distance: 353.31km
Competitive distance: 233.76km
Total distance: 587.07km
Shakedown: Angsana Shopping Complex (Thursday March 31, 1530-1830)
Pre-event press conference: Grand Paragon Hotel (Friday April 1, 1000)
Post-event press conference: Grand Paragon Hotel (Sunday April 3, 1730)
Time difference: Malaysia is GMT+8hrs

Event timetable:
Friday April 1
Ceremonial start: Angsana Complex****1545
SS1 Angsana 1 (2.50km)****1635

Saturday April 2
SS2 Tai Tak – HQ (32.30km)****0923
SS3 Tai Tak – Pipeline (24.49km)****1021
SS4 Tai Tak – Fish Pond (17.69km)****1059
Service – Angsana Shopping Complex****1224
SS5 Tai Tak – HQ (32.30km)****1417
SS6 Tai Tak – Pipeline (24.49km)****1515
SS7 Tai Tak – Fish Pond (17.69km)****1553
SS8 Angsana 2 (2.50km)****1721
Service – Angsana Shopping Complex****1729

Sunday April 3
SS9 Tai Tak – Court House (12.42km)****0806
SS10 Tai Tak – Lukut (11.97km)****0830
SS11 Tai Tak – Mawai (14.26km)****0857
Service – Angsana Shopping Complex****1027
SS12 Tai Tak – Court House (12.42km)****1230
SS13 Tai Tak – Lukut (11.97km)****1254
SS14 Tai Tak – Mawai (14.26km)****1321
SS15 Angsana 3 (2.50km)****1454
Finish – Angsana Shopping Complex****1600

The 2011 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Malaysian Rally (April 1-3)
International Rally of Queensland (May 13-15)
Rally de Nouvelle Caledonie (June 17-19)
Rally of Whangarei (July 16-17)
Rally Hokkaido (September 30-October 2)
China Rally Longyou (November 4-6)








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