After dominating last year's FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, Proton Motorsports begins its challenge for the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship glory on this week's Rallye Monte Carlo.
The team, which won both titles on the APRC circuit in 2011, will field two Satria-Neo S2000s on the first of seven SWRC rounds it will contest this season. Two-time FIA Junior World Rally champion P-G Andersson and double FIA European Rally champion Giandomenico Basso will be behind the wheel, bringing vital previous experience - and top ten finishes - on what is recognised as one of the most challenging rallies of the season.
Both drivers are raring to get back into the Satria-Neo for their second year with the team, and have been testing the car in the mountains close to the French-Italian border, reporting significant progress.
“As soon as I drove the car at the test, immediately I could feel there was more torque from the engine, so the car is definitely a step forward from last year," Andersson commented, "I am very happy with this! The team has worked really hard. The benefit from these changes with the engine will come from a faster exit from slower corners [while] at the same time, the car's handing is also feeling better."
While he might be happy with the car, however, Andersson admits that he can still improve on his previous Monte form.
"Who can tell what's going to happen on the Monte? Nobody," he noted, "Everything is possible next week, but I hope to be looking for the podium result. I really like this rally but, in the past, I have made some silly mistakes – I'm determined not to do that again. As well as anything, we have to remember that there is no superally this year so, if we retire, then we are finished and out of the game.
"Now we have to see what happens on the rally itself. The weather plays such a big part on this event; personally, I like it when we have the changeable conditions, you never know what you're going to get. I think it's easiest to make the best result when the roads are like this as well.”
Despite its success coming largely in the APRC, Proton has already established a strong history in the World Rally Championship, having won the 2002 FIA Production Car title with Malaysia's Karamjit Singh. This year's SWRC represents a new challenge, however, bringing the Satria-Neo S2000 into competition with some of the strongest rally machinery around.
“We're delighted to be contesting the Super 2000 World Rally Championship and we're also very pleased with the work we've done on the Satria-Neo S2000 over the closed season," team principal Chris Mellors commented, "The drivers are both very happy with what they've got for this event, so let's see what we can do. Obviously we want to be at the front of the SWRC pack, but the priority has to be to get some points on the board on this first round of the championship.
"The emphasis is on getting to Monaco on Sunday afternoon. But what an event! The first stage? Thirty-six kilometres. Bang, off you go. And it gets harder from there. The weather is looking like it will be very cold, but dry – which would suit us: that's what we got in the test. If there is any snow, we've got that covered as well with plenty of set-up data from previous tests. The whole team is really looking forward to getting back to the World Rally Championship and making a good start in France next week.”