NATIONAL car maker Proton has positioned itself well to be among the key players in the World Rally Championship (WRC) with the launch of the Proton Malaysia R3 Rally Team yesterday.
The team will begin this season with a formidable lineup of drivers featuring Scotsman Alistair McRae and Australian Chris Atkinson. Their main target is to capture the FIa Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) title for the team.
The quest begins with the Malaysian round of the APRC in Johor next weekend.
McRae and Atkinson have a stable of four Proton Satria Neo Super 2000 spec cars for the mission, two of which will be based in this region for APRC purpose, while the other two will be based in Europe to serve them in the Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC).
Proton Motorsports general manager Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood, the man behind the successful Petronas Eon Racing Team (PERT) that bagged multiple APRC and World Production Car Rally Championship titles before it folded in 2005, is at the helm of this team.
The Proton Satria Neo in S2000 spec, was built by UK-based Mellors Elliot Motorsport (MEM). The car was tested in several rounds of the IRC last year and made its Asian debut in the Malaysian Rally 2009.
"We've decided that from now on, rallying is going to be the platform for our global branding and marketing. Thus we're going to be more aggressive," said Abdul Razak.
"We have a car that has been tested and is competitive enough for us to go for titles. So, that is what we're going to do."
Abdul Razak said the future of rallying lies in the S2000 spec cars, which will soon replace the WRC-spec cars which are much more expensive to build and run, and which he said has been a deterrent for manufacturers to sustain their involvement.
"From next year, it is already a different spec for WRC, which is for 1,600cc turbo-charged cars, based on the S2000 spec. So, we've positioned ourselves well to be ready when the time comes, to take the step into the WRC," said Abdul Razak.
The S2000-spec cars are four-wheel drive vehicles of 2,000cc in engine capacity, running without turbo. Proton is among seven manufacturers registered to compete in the fast-growing IRC this season.
The 31-year-old Atkinson, who finished fifth overall in the WRC in 2008, said the cars are much more exciting despite producing lower torque compared to current WRC cars, but development will only see S2000 spec cars getting faster.
After the Malaysian Rally 2010 next weekend, the team continue their challenge in the second round of the APRC in the Rally of Hokkaido in Japan on May 22-23.
source - NST dated April 14 2010 written by Arnaz M Khairul.