PROTON Motorsports dominated Rallye Nouvelle Caledonie, which finished in Noumea yesterday (Sunday). The Satria Neo S2000 proved unbeatable for the second FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship round this year. Chris Atkinson (Australia) and Alister McRae (Britain) finished first and third in the Pacific island event and are now one-two in the APRC standings – with PROTON leading the manufacturers’ title race.

After making the perfect start to the APRC season with a winning double podium on the Malaysian Rally, PROTON was aiming for a repeat of that performance on the 19-stage event. And Atkinson and McRae duly delivered.

Atkinson’s second victory of the year – and PROTON’s third win from the last four APRC rounds (including McRae’s APRC win on the China Longyou Rally, the final round of the 2010 series) highlighted the performance and consistency of the Satrias.

New Caledonia was always going to be one of the biggest challenges for the PROTON Motorsports team this season, with Atkinson only having competed there once before and McRae never having travelled to the island rally. The notoriously fickle weather delivered plenty of rain just before the start of the event, leaving the switchback dirt roads extremely muddy and slippery for the region’s finest and fastest rally drivers. And PROTON, Atkinson and McRae proved to be finer and faster than the rest.

Atkinson built a comfortable lead at the front of the field and rarely looked troubled as he progressed to his second success in this year’s series. His win on the beautiful Pacific island is enough to return him to the lead of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship drivers’ table. The Queenslander is 10 points ahead of McRae, who completes a PROTON’s perfect one-two in the mid-season table.

With three rounds down and three to run, PROTON Motorsports is enjoying huge success in this year’s series – the most important and highest profile in the Asia-Pacific region. Beyond the drivers’ race, PROTON is also leading the FIA Asia-Pacific Championship for Manufacturers and the APRC Teams’ Trophy.

The next event for the PROTON Motorsports team is the Geko Ypres Rally round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which starts in Ypres, Belgium on Friday (June 24). The team’s next FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship round will be the International Rally of Whangarei (July 15-17) in New Zealand.


Chris Atkinson said:
“Finding a good rhythm and a good pace on these roads was really important on this rally – and we were able to do that pretty quickly. The roads were really wet to start with, but they did dry out. In some ways that made it harder because when you went under the trees, it was damp again and you had to be really careful in these sections: there was no grip at all. This rally was definitely one of the toughest I’ve ever done, harder than most of the rounds of the World Rally Championships I’ve competed on; as the conditions were drying, it felt like no two corners had the same sort of grip level. Scoring our second win from three rounds shows how quick the car is and how much performance we have there. It also makes it more frustrating that we had the problem on the second round in Queensland, we were leading when we went out of that event – we could have been here sitting on three wins! Apart from a broken driveshaft on the first day, which was a strange problem – one we've never had before, everything went to plan on this event. This was a great result – and another one to make PROTON proud.”

Alister McRae said:
“Not competing here before made this a tricky rally for me. I enjoy the challenge of these new events, but the rain that had fallen before the start of the rally made these roads incredibly difficult. The surface of the road is quite clay-like, so, as you would expect, as soon as it got wet, there wasn’t too much grip around. We had some punctures during the event which cost us a time, but to come away from the event with third place was good news, it keeps me right in the race for the title. From here, we’re going to New Zealand which is an event everybody absolutely loves and I’m hoping I can put one over on my team-mate Chris [Atkinson] on that event.”

PROTON Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director Dato’ Seri Haji Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said:
“We are elated with this victory. Two victories in three rounds of the APRC certainly proves the competitiveness of the Satria Neo S2000. We’ve endured our fair share of misfortunes and mechanical issues but the car has nevertheless proven time and time again that it is able to take on the more powerful turbocharged cars and more importantly win rallies.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“This is a great result for the team. It means we’re leading the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships which is fantastic news. It’s fair to say we were ready for a shot in the arm like this one. The cars ran really well and the Satria has, once again, shown the pace it can run at. This wasn’t an easy rally for the team, Chris had been here before, but some time ago, but Alister hadn’t seen these roads before and they were pretty tricky, with plenty of places to catch the guys out. Both Chris and Alister have done a great job for the team and that’s reflected in the way we lead the championships. Taking first and third from two of the first three rounds is a very solid start to the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship – and it's nice to be leading three FIA championships!”

Event data:
Round: 3/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Noumea, New Caledonia
Stages: 19
Liaison distance: 387.41km
Competitive distance: 223.73km
Total distance: 611.14km
Conditions: 20 degrees, dry
Day one leader: Chris Atkinson PROTON
Winner: Chris Atkinson PROTON

The 2011 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
International Rally of Queensland (May 13-15)
Rally de Nouvelle Caledonie (June 17-19)
Rally of Whangarei (July 16-17)
Rally Hokkaido (September 30-October 2)
China Rally Longyou (November 4-6)
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