Former WRC man Chris Atkinson gave Proton the perfect result by dominating the manufacturers' home round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship last weekend, the Malaysian Rally.
Atkinson seized the lead in his Proton Satria Neo S2000 on the first 'proper' test and after that he never looked back, winning five of the seven stages on the opening leg to build a cushion close to two minutes. The Aussie then paced himself through the second and final day and despite a right-rear puncture in SS9, which cost him 30 seconds, easily took the victory.
“This result has been coming for a while. Last year, we saw just how quick the car was in the APRC and now we've delivered the score which everybody in Proton deserves,” said Atkinson after the opening round of the 2011 FIA APRC.
“In the end, we had to drive sensibly. We'd got a good lead from the first day and we could only lose it on Sunday. We weren't willing to risk anything, so we just settled down and counted the stages off, especially after we dropped some time with a puncture.
“As a driver, you always want to be on the limit and racing, but this was a result for Proton and the people of Malaysia.
“It's the best possible way to start the season. As soon as we got into the car to drive it with the new suspension and engine, we knew it was going to be special. It was. Very special.”
Team-mate Alister McRae meanwhile recovered to take the final spot on the podium in the sister Proton Satria Neo S2000 after losing time in SS3 when his engine overheated.
“This was a great result for the team, but it was obviously a little bit disappointing that I had the problem yesterday. We were running pretty high up on the road and we got some grass caught in the radiator,” explained the Scot. “When we saw the temperature going up, we slowed down until the temperature came down a little bit, then we would go again.
“The car has taken a really good step forward though and there is more speed to come, but the engine and suspension already felt great on this rally. There's no doubt this event was the toughest for the Super 2000 car. The tight corners don't suit S2000 cars as much as the others, so to take a win here is fantastic. The next rallies will suit us much more, which makes the future very exciting for this car and this team. Obviously, a one-two was the dream, but first and third is a great result and a massive achievement for Proton.”
“When we saw the look on the drivers' faces after the first test of the car this year, we knew this was possible,” summed-up team boss, Chris Mellors. “The team has worked so hard through the winter to make this happen. Both Chris and Alister have driven fantastically for this result.
“The Proton Motorsports team has really pulled together for this result. The cars have been fantastic throughout the weekend. Obviously, with the guys taking a good lead over their nearest rivals into the second day, we talked about our approach, which was about delivering on the promise we'd shown yesterday. And we certainly did that on the rally which means the most to us all.
“And the good thing is that there is more to come from the car. We now look forward to the next Intercontinental Rally Challenge round [Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles] next month.
“But, for now, two Malaysian rally cars on the podium of Malaysia's biggest rally of the season is the perfect result.”