The Proton R3 Rally Team has arrived in Japan for the second round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship - Rally Hokkaido - which starts from Makubetsu on Friday evening.
After impressing with a string of fastest times and the rally lead on last month's opening round in Malaysia, drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson have vowed to come back even harder on this the second event in the of the seven-round series.
McRae, co-driven by Australian Bill Hayes, led the event with a fine drive in some of the hottest conditions he has ever had to cope with, although he suffered a minor engine fault on his Satria Neo S2000 and will be keen to rebound with a strong result in Japan.
"I have never competed in Japan before, so I've only got a rough idea of what to expect,” he said. “I've watched some footage from Rally Japan and a lot of the in-car, so this gives you a good flavour of the stages to come. They look quite fast in places, but really narrow as well. They don't seem to flow too much. I would say the key to this event is going to be getting an accurate set of notes from the recce. The big thing for us in Japan is that this event really should suit the car more than Malaysia did - and we led that rally, which shows the pace we've got in the Proton.
“The one thing we shouldn't have in Japan is the same kind of fierce heat we felt in Malaysia, which will make the car much more comfortable. I think our big competition here is going to be Katsu Taguchi. He won the opening round in Malaysia and, this being his local event, he's done it a great number of times. The result we're after for Proton is two podiums, with Chris or myself on the top step."
Atkinson ended his debut event for the Proton R3 Rally Team fourth in the championship standings after an extremely promising start and should be amongst the favourites having performed strongly on Japanese soil during his time in the WRC with Subaru.
"I've got fond memories of Japan; it's the place where I scored my first podium, taking third place on my first visit there in the Impreza WRC in 2005,” he said. “The stages are good. They're fast and smooth in places, but they are quite technical. There's a lot of the road running under the trees which can make it hard to see the precise line you want to take through the corner. You do need very accurate pace notes on this event. The last rally in Malaysia was my first real time in the car and, as such, I was still getting used to my new surroundings. In Japan this week, I'll be more used to the car and I'll be looking to push harder and see what we can do. The Proton felt fantastic last time out - and that was on stages which didn't really suit the Super 2000 car - so I can't wait to get it into Japan to see what we can do. I've always like rallying in this part of the world.
“The people are all really enthusiastic towards the sport and friendly and the food is fantastic. All in all, I'm really looking forward to Rally Hokkaido and, most of all, to getting the result which everybody at Proton and MEM deserve."