Expectations for Australia’s biggest championship rally of 2010, the International Rally of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast, have received a huge boost with the signing of world rally star Chris Atkinson to contest the event for the crack Proton R3 team.

Gold Coast-based Atkinson, 30, and fellow experienced World Rally Championship driver Alister McRae, of Scotland, will line up in a pair of Proton Satria Neo S2000 cars for the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, of which the International Rally of Queensland (IROQ) on 30 July-1 August will be round four.

The seven-round championship starts with Proton’s home event in Malaysia on 24-25 April. It is expected to see competitors from Japan, China, India, Malaysia, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand in a series which ranks second only behind the FIA World Rally Championship on the international calendar.

Atkinson, McRae and the British-run Mellors Elliot Motorsport Proton team will be among the strongest contenders in Queensland, where Atkinson won in 2004 before joining Subaru for four years in the World Rally Championship.

After spending all but one round of the 2009 WRC season on the sidelines, the Queenslander will delight fans with his return to full-time, world-class rallying and his home event, which was announced on Good Friday, IROQ Event director Errol Bailey said today.

“This is fantastic news for the International Rally of Queensland. It will be the only opportunity in Australia this year for spectators to see two big names of the World Rally Championship, Atkinson and McRae, in action aboard the very latest Super 2000-category Proton cars,” Mr Bailey said.

“While Mark Webber has achieved magnificently in Formula 1, Chris has also scaled the heights as an Australian in the equally-demanding World Rally Championship and is rightly regarded as one of our top international motorsportsmen.

“We will welcome Chris home. He is a close friend of the event, having won it in 2004, driven the non-competing ‘Zero’ car last year and continued his personal membership of the organising club, the Brisbane Sporting Car Club, throughout his career.

“He is also no stranger to the FIA APRC, having won the Super 1600 Championship in 2003 and 2004 driving a works Suzuki Ignis.

“Chris’s entry in IROQ and the FIA APRC is also great news for IROQ’s sponsors, partners and organisers. This will guarantee substantial extra international and domestic publicity for the rally, a valuable incentive for any company that is considering a commercial involvement.”

Atkinson should bring a strong balance of youth and experience to the Proton R3 Rally Team.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to drive the next generation of rally car. I’m really excited about the year ahead,” website rallybuzz.com quoted him as saying.

“I’ve tested the Satria Neo S2000 briefly in Britain and it’s a very, very good car. I’m looking forward to working with Proton and Alister in the year ahead. To be honest, I can’t wait to get started on the first event.”

Chris Mellors, manager of the Derbyshire, England, Proton R3 team, welcomed the signing of Atkinson.

“He has shown what he can do at the highest level of this sport and it’s great news for Proton that he’s joining us,”’ he said.

“We’re a real Asia Pacific team now: a Malaysian manufacturer with a native Australian driving one car and a Scotsman living in Australia in the other.

“There’s no doubt this is going to be an exciting season for Proton and all concerned with the programme. But right now the focus is on getting Alister and Chris more time in the Satria and getting everybody ready for our home round of the 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.”

The Proton Satria Neo S2000 is the product of an alliance between Mellor’s MEM car preparation company and Proton. It first appeared half-way through last season, while McRae wrapped up the year with second in the Rally of Scotland.

As well as the FIA  APRC, IROQ in 2010
 will host rounds of the Australian and Queensland Rally Championships and competitions for Classic and All-Comers entries.

More than 70 cars in total are expected to compete, bringing with them more than a thousand crew members, supporters and media from the Asia Pacific region and Australia.

They will contest a Friday night Super Special Stage under lights on the coast, before action moves to the Imbil State Forest in the Mary Valley for traditional gravel special stages across the weekend.

Public and corporate opportunities to see the cars in action and at rest during service breaks will be available at several points on the course.
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