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.