Italian rally star Giandomenico Basso has revealed that he will drive a Proton Satria Neo S2000 on six rounds of this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The double FIA European Rally Champion will join two-time Junior World Rally Champion Per-Gunnar Andersson in the Proton line-up, ensuring the Malaysian team will field arguably the strongest driver line-up in the series.
The 37-year-old completed 300 kilometres of testing over two days in Italy earlier this month, and immediately felt comfortable in the British-prepared car. He will join Andersson for six asphalt rounds this season - Rally Islas Canarias, Prime Yalta Rally, Geko Ypres Rally, Rali Vinho Madeira, Barum Czech Rally Zlin, Mecsek Rallye and Rallye Sanremo - and will return to the complete a further two days of running before his debut next month (14-16 April).
“When I drove the car in Italy, I felt two things," Basso commented, "I felt the car was good and I felt a warmth in the team, so I know I can work well with Proton. The engine felt strong straight away - we have some small work to do to get power into different areas, but it's good.
"The car was also easy to drive, which is really important, especially when you have events which can have changeable conditions – it gives you confidence. We know we have some work ahead in order to improve the overall performances to bring the Satria close to the top group, and we are excited about that. I'm really looking forward to the first event with the team, everything is very positive and it's great to be back working with a manufacturer.”
Proton Motorsports tested other drivers in Italy, with a third factory-supported Satria likely to be running on selected IRC rounds later this season, but team principal Chris Mellors admitted that he was delighted to have attracted a driver of Basso's quality to the line-up.
“He comes with a wealth of experience of the sport at this level, and there's no doubt he's going to give us an extra edge on the rallies where he's competing," Mellors noted, "Everything went very well with Giandomenico from the start. The two days of testing he did were great, we had no issues and we got on really well. We completed some engine work during the test, looking at different engine strategies, and some set-up work. He was pleased with the car and we were pleased with him. We've got more developments coming on the car all of the time: the suspension is the next area we are looking at.
“This is an exciting time for Proton Motorsports. Not only have we finalised the IRC programme with this exciting development, but we have the potential for a third car on some [IRC] rounds – there's a huge level of interest in the car and the team right now. And, let's not forget, we've got Malaysia Rally, the first round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship coming up next month.
"We finished last year's Asia Pacific series with a win – and we're looking to get 2011 under way in exactly the same fashion with our APRC drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson.”