PROTON Motorsports’ season gets underway on tomorrow (Wednesday), on the most famous event of them – the Monte Carlo Rally.

For the first time ever, the French Alps will reverberate to the Satria Neo S2000’s stunning soundtrack as Chris Atkinson (Australia) and P-G Andersson (Sweden) aim to follow in the footsteps of some of the sport’s greatest ever names to win the Monte Carlo Rally.

While this is the first time for the car in Monte Carlo, both drivers have a solid track record on what’s widely recognised as one of the world’s most treacherous rallies. Running through the mountains in the middle of winter provides an ever-changing range of weather conditions and grip levels. As the crews round the mountain from the sunshine on the south-side to the shade of the north, clear asphalt can turn to sheet ice in the turn of a corner. But, waiting for them at the finish, are the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean and the world-famous principality of Monaco.

Away from the rally, Monaco is famous for its casinos – and this week provides the teams with their biggest gamble of the season. That gamble involves tyre choices, pretty straightforward on other events, it’s anything but on the Monte. Typically, a stage starts lowdown the mountain – below the freezing level – but then the competition runs up into the ice and snow before descending to the finish on dry or wet asphalt. What do you do? Slick, wet, intermediate, ice tyre or full snow? This rally can be won and lost on a single tyre choice.

Important as the Monte Carlo Rally is, this year’s event is even more so as the organisers, the Automobile Club de Monaco, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first ever Monte. That impressive centenary is reflected in the worldwide following for this opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, with Eurosport screening 12 of 13 stages live.

PROTON Motorsports has worked flat out through the off-season, ensuring the two Satria Neo S2000s arrive at tomorrow’s start in Valance in perfect condition. The cars have a new specification of engine and damper and will provide a significant challenge to the IRC’s established order. Having contested selected rounds of last year’s series, 2011 will be PROTON’s first major IRC programme and the British-based squad are looking forward to a solid start.

MEM, the firm which prepares PROTON’s Satria Neo S2000s, are no strangers to success on the Monte Carlo Rally having taken a one-two finish in the Production Car category in 2006.

This time around the stakes – like those being played for in Casino Square – are higher as PROTON roll the dice on the most famous rally of them all.

Chris Atkinson said:
“Last time I did the Monte Carlo Rally, I finished on the podium, so I have some pretty good memories of the event. It’s a tough rally, there’s no doubt about that, with the conditions changing constantly. But we’ve had a good test, it’s great to be back in the car and driving again, this event is the natural start to a rally driver’s season, so it’s fantastic to be here. I haven’t competed much on asphalt since Ypres last year, so the test was really important for me to kind of dial myself back in. We tried all sorts of tyre combinations and suspension set-ups, which is crucial for this event – and we were pretty fortunate with the weather as we had wet and dry running on both the roads we were testing on. I’m just looking forward to the start now, can’t wait to get driving the PROTON again.”

P-G Andersson said:
“I’m really happy with the way the test went. We did two days and a lot of kilometres. Like my first test in the PROTON [in December], the car responded well to the changes we made to it. We drove in rain and in the dry, so, after the snow on the first test, we have now covered all of the possible conditions for Monte Carlo. It’s not going to be an easy event, it never is. There’s a good entry with a lot of very good drivers, but we didn’t have any problems at all in the testing we did with the car. I’m not going to predict a result, all I want is a trouble-free run. If we can get that, then anything can happen on this rally. We have all seen the way the Monte Carlo Rally can work before, you have the first stage and everything is normal, then after the second stage you can lose lots of cars and everything has gone a little bit crazy. When the grip is always changing, it’s that kind of rally. It would be nice if the weather stayed dry, to give us some predictable conditions, but if it’s a typical Monte with lots of changes of weather and grip, then this can make it interesting. We know from the test that we have a very good chassis with good grip in all of the conditions.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“Monte Carlo is one of the world’s classic rallies, but it’s also among the most capricious – a great way to start PROTON Motorsports’ season in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. We’ve had four very good days of testing for this rally. The drivers are happy and the whole team is happy and relaxed. It’s impossible to try and predict a result on a rally like this one, but what we are certain about is our preparation for the first event of 2011: they couldn’t have been better. We completed rally distance in the tests before the event and didn’t have to put a spanner on the car, so we’re very happy with that. The number one aim for PROTON Motorsports is to come away from Monte Carlo with some solid points on the board, to set us up well for the year ahead. I’m really looking forward to the event, though. Like I said, everything has gone well pre-event and now we want to carry that positivity into the rally itself. Both Chris and P-G have experience of the Monte, with Chris’s last outing netting him a podium – we’d settle for a similar result next week.”

Event data
Round 1/1, Intercontinental Rally Challenge
Based: Valence/Monaco
Stages: 13
Liaison distance: 1,004.69km
Competitive distance: 337.06km
Total distance: 1,341.75km
Pre-event press conference: 1700 Tuesday January 18, Valence
Post-event press conference: 1230 Saturday January 22, Monaco
Time difference: France/Monaco is GMT+1hr

Event timetable
Wednesday January 19
SS1 Le Moulinon-Antraigues (36.87km)    1005
Tyres service Vals    1055
SS2 Burzet-St Martial (41.06km)    1140
SS3 St Bonnet-le-Froid-St Bonnet-le-Froid (25.22km)     1411
Tyres service Lalouvesc    1456
SS4 St Bonnet-le-Froid-St Bonnet-le-Froid (25.22km)     1620
Service Valence    1815

Thursday January 20
SS5 St Jean-en-Royans-Font D’Urle (23.05km)    1223
SS6 Cimetiere de Vassieux-Col de Gaudissart (24.13km)    1304
Service Valence    1444
SS7 St Jean-en-Royans-Font D’Urle (23.05km)    1607
SS8 Cimetiere de Vassieux-Col de Gaudissart (24.13km)    1648
Service Valence    1813

Friday January 21
SS9 Montauban Sur L’Ouveze-Eygalayes (29.89km)    0908
Service Monaco    1353
SS10 Moulinet-La Bollene-Vesubie (23.41km)    1915
SS11 Lantosque-Luceram (18.81km)    1958
Service Monaco
SS12 Moulinet-La Bollene-Vesubie (23.41km)    2325
SS13 Lantosque-Luceram (18.81km)    0008

Saturday Januar y 22
Ceremonial finish Monaco    1100 
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