The Proton R3 Rally Team begins its Intercontinental Rally Challenge programme on this week's Ypres Rally, with rising Welsh talent Tom Cave joining 'old hands' Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson on one of the most iconic events on the schedule.

Cave, who finished third on his tarmac rally debut in the build-up to the Belgian event, will run a semi-works entry on the Ypres Rally, which starts on Friday afternoon and finishes the following night. The IRC boasts its strongest Super 2000 entry ever as the field tackles one of Europe's toughest asphalt rallies, which covers 19 stages and close to 300km of competition in just 30 hours. The sixth round of the season is also the Proton team's first outing in the series since McRae took second overall on the final round of 2009 in his native Scotland.

Teenager Cave believes he is as well prepared as he can be for the event, having finished last weekend's Rallye de la Haute Senne third overall in his Proton Satria Neo
Super 2000, coming home just behind new team-mate Atkinson and local hero Patrik Snijers, who took the win as he built up towards another Ypres appearance.

As preparation for Ypres, the Haute Senne was the perfect event, featuring four loops of three stages that allowed Cave to learn the Proton on tarmac and refine an asphalt set-up as the day went on. His day began well, with no problems over the opening loop of stages before the Davies Motorsport Services technicians made several changes to the car's settings which helped on the next loop of stages.

However, on the sixth stage of the event, he picked up a puncture and elected to drive to the end of the stage on the flat tyre, rather than lose time changing it within the stage. Despite this, he still dropped around 45 seconds, but attacked the stages in the afternoon with renewed pace and was able to claw back some of the lost positions, much to the annoyance of the local drivers. By the end of the event, he reached third place, a remarkable achievement on his first outing in a four wheel-drive car on tarmac.

"Overall, this has been a very good event, both for us and, I suspect, for the Proton team," Cave commented, "We had no problems at all with the car and were able to make numerous adjustments to its set-up to develop what I feel is a really good base for Ypres next weekend. We ran 110km on tarmac very similar to what we'll find next weekend, so I couldn't have asked for more. The car felt great, we set some stage times that I was personally very pleased with and now I have a lot more confidence
heading for Ypres."

The rally will be the first significant competition on asphalt for all three Proton drivers, with McRae struggling to log the sort of success - and mileage - achieved by his team-mates after developing a misfire. Given that the rally was essentially an extended test, however, the Scot sacrificed his chance of winning and switched the engine off.

"I've done Ypres three times before and I like it, but the last time I did it was 15 years ago or something like that, so I can't actually remember it very well," McRae revealed, "However, I wouldn't say it's an event I love, as we've had a few issues with some of the ditches over there in the past! It's certainly not an easy rally.

"Looking at it, you'd think it was pretty straightforward with some long straights followed by square corners, but it's anything but straightforward. Because everybody is
travelling at pretty much the same speed down the straights, the key to Ypres is in the braking and the traction from the car under braking. You want to leave it as late as possible before you come off the gas, because that's where the time is going to be won and lost on this event. But, leave it a nanosecond too late and that could be the
end of your rally. And then, just to really spice things up, the weather can usually turn wet, so it's a really interesting event!"

Despite his setback last weekend, the experienced Scot remains confident of a good showing on the Ypres.

"Obviously, it's our first IRC event in the Proton on asphalt, but we've done some testing, and the small rally last weekend, which has really helped," he reasoned, "The car feels very strong on tarmac, and we're running the new engine specification with the taller gearing, which will make the Satria Neo S2000 a very strong package on the rally.

"As for a result, that's a big question. There are only 24 other S2000 cars out there for us to beat, so it's going to be a tough one. There are plenty of locals out there who have done this event year after year, plus we're still finding out more and more about the Satria on asphalt. Points would be a very, very good result."

Atkinson, meanwhile, heads to the classic event rather more blind than his Scottish team-mate, but remains confident of a good showing once he has adjusted.

"What do I know about Belgium? Not much," he joked, "I have a Belgian co-driver in Stephane Prevot, so I've been there a few times to see him. I know a few Belgian cyclists and I've actually ridden a bike through Belgium a few times, so I know a little bit about the roads on two wheels.

"Seriously, though, I don't know too much about this event. I know it's got an awesome reputation as one of Europe's toughest asphalt rallies and an incredible reputation for having a great atmosphere, with all of the villages on the route coming out to support the drivers. There's a real aura been created around this rally. The crucial thing on this event, as everywhere, will be getting a good set of pace notes. We're going to be doing some stages in the dusk, which is worse and harder than driving competitively in the pitch black.

"At the same time, this is quite a long event - it's almost a WRC round in terms of distance in half the time of a WRC round. It's nice to be seeded where I am [number three] but, at the end of the day, it's about where you finish rather than where you start. I really like asphalt driving and, from the testing we have done so far, you can see this car suits asphalt. It's got a great engine and it's so light, it's like a racing car!

"I can't wait to get started, particularly after the stages we did on the test event on Saturday. That rally was really useful for us. I don't think the stages were an exact fit, but it awesome to get the Proton running on tarmac, even if we were driving with Ypres in mind. It's been a while since we've been in this kind of fierce competition, so we have to be realistic, the entry for the event is massive so a top ten would be a solid result for us to build on for the rest of the asphalt rallies to come."