The PROTON Motorsports team stands on the verge of its most successful season ever, following another exceptional performance on last weekend’s Rally Hokkaido which has guaranteed the Malaysian manufacturer the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title.

The question still to be answered on the final round, the China Rally Longyou (November 4-6), is which of the two PROTON drivers will take the title; will it be current APRC series leader Alister McRae or his team-mate Chris Atkinson?

Both McRae and Atkinson set a blistering pace through the Rally Hokkaido stages last weekend, with the Scot collecting bonus points for setting the most fastest stage times on the penultimate APRC round.

It took until late in the first day before any of PROTON’s APRC rivals could find a way to beat the Satria Neo S2000 to a fastest stage time.  Atkinson led the Obihiro-based event from the start, but was forced to give best to McRae after the Scotsman's stunning time through the fourth stage – almost a second per kilometre faster than his nearest non-PROTON rival.

McRae suffered a puncture two stages later and was forced to stop and change the flat front-left. Having dropped more than two minutes, McRae fought back magnificently through the second day, to end the event just 8.8 seconds short of victory.

Australian Atkinson’s hopes of victory in Hokkaido were spoiled when his Satria Neo S2000 lost oil on stage nine. For the first time this season, the man who has won three of the five rounds run so far does not lead the title race.

Beyond the drivers’ championship, PROTON continues to lead the manufacturers’ title race. PROTON will collect the Team Trophy and, most likely, the Asia Cup in Longyou next month. Atkinson has already won the Pacific Cup.

With one round remaining, PROTON Motorsports looks well set to secure all five of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship titles it embarked on at the start of the season.

Alister McRae said:
“The puncture was pretty disappointing, but the upside was the speed we showed on this rally. I’m pretty confident we would have had the performance to take maximum APRC points here without that [puncture]. The car was great during the event; we had no problems. You can really see where the development is coming and the potential of the PROTON is being unleashed. What I was really pleased with is that the roads here in Japan probably suited the turbocharged Group N cars more than they did our car, but we showed that we had the pace to beat them. Now we go to China for what’s going to be a great fight between myself and Chris. Before that, though, it’s back home to Scotland for me, for the Rally of Scotland. It’s nice to be arriving as the leader of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship – and really nice to arrive with some solid seat time just a few days earlier.”

Chris Atkinson said:
“We were having a great battle with Alister when the car started to lose oil. There was nothing we could do. It’s really disappointing to have lost the lead in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, but at the same time it’s set-up a real thriller in China between Alister and I.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“To know we have the drivers’ championship in the bag is tremendously satisfying, especially to do it with one round remaining. The car is coming on leaps and bounds. We struggled here in Hokkaido 12 months ago, but this year, for me, there’s no doubt that Alister would have won without the puncture. Both the guys, Alister and Chris, were absolutely flying here in Japan. Alister won plenty of stages and even set some new stage records, which demonstrates how well the car is working. And now we go to China with all to play for. And the drivers will be free to fight on that event.”
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