Current FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader and defending FIA Asia-Pacific Rally champion Proton Motorsports has shifted the focus of its programme in an effort to land two major FIA titles in 2012, it has been announced.
Recent SWRC Rally Finland winner and series leader P-G Andersson will contest the remaining SWRC rounds in a Proton Satria-Neo S2000, aiming to add the Super 2000 title to the two FIA Junior World Rally Championship crowns he took in 2006 and 2007, while reigning FIA Asia-Pacific Rally champion Alister McRae will spearhead the Malaysian manufacturer's attack on the final two rounds of the FIA APRC, as he looks to become the first Briton to take back-to-back APRC titles.
Joining McRae on the next APRC round, Rally Hokkaido, which runs from September 15-16, will be seven-time Finnish Champion Juha Salo with British driver Tom Cave partnering Andersson in the team for Rally GB (September 12-16).
Salo made his Proton Motorsports debut on his native Rally Finland earlier this month and was immediately on the SWRC pace. The Finn delivered the podium result which Proton had been hoping for on the Jyvaskyla-based event and beyond that, Salo impressed the team with the swift adjustment of his driving style to a Super 2000 car, having spent his career in more standard Group N machinery.
Cave meanwhile is no stranger to Proton, having competed in the Satria-Neo S2000 on numerous occasions in 2010. He returned to the squad in June this year to dominate the Rally of Thailand, winning 11 of 13 stages on his way to a commanding victory on his first event in Asia.
MEM team principal Chris Mellors explained: “The way the season has progressed, we now have very strong chances to win in both the FIA SWRC and APRC series and we have to maximise those opportunities – and that's what this reshuffle is all about. When we started this season, we knew there would be decisions to make for the clash of Rally Hokkaido and Rally GB and we're fortunate to have P-G in the lead of SWRC and Alister second in the APRC, so the choice of which driver went where really made itself.
“We're doubly fortunate to have a driver of Juha's ability to call on in Japan. Juha settled into the team brilliantly when he was at home in Finland and showed real pace on the faster roads. The stages in Japan are also really quick and we're confident he'll be able to go out there and deliver another very strong result for PROTON Motorsports.
“And British rally fans need no introduction to Tom Cave. He's leading the BRC at the moment and is one of the sport's brightest young stars. He showed tremendous maturity in the way he won in Thailand earlier this year and his home SWRC round next month will provide him with a genuine chance to showcase his talent on rallying's highest possible stage.”