For the second year running, the PROTON Motorsports team set the pace at the International Rally of Queensland – but an electrical issue ruled the team out of a one-two finish which looked perfectly possible early in the rally. Scotsman Alister McRae slipped back from the lead today (Sunday) and finished the Sunshine Coast event in fourth place.

Both McRae and his team-mate Chris Atkinson had been full of praise for the improvements made to the PROTON Satria Neo S2000, and both drivers enjoyed a trouble-free test for this second round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. After the first two spectator stages on Friday night, the team’s hopes of going one better than the APRC opener, last month’s Malaysian Rally – where they finished first and third, were on course as Atkinson led from McRae.

Courtesy of his Malaysian Rally win, Atkinson led the APRC coming into his home event, and the local superstar continued his domination from the front of the field on the first stage on Saturday. Not far after the start of SS4, however, the leading PROTON suffered an alternator problem and stopped.

Running close to Atkinson when he suffered the electrical issue, McRae took on the PROTON charge with an inspired run through Saturday to lead the rally going into the second and final day.

Unfortunately for McRae, his hopes of repeating his – and PROTON’s – win on the final round of last year’s APRC were dashed when his car suffered an alternator problem. McRae ended the event in fourth place, claiming points not only for his overall placing, but also for leading at the end of day one.

PROTON Motorsports will return its focus to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge next, where P-G Andersson and Giandomenico Basso will drive the factory Satria Neo S2000s on the Prime Yalta Rally (June 2-4).

Chris Atkinson said:
“We’re all disappointed with what happened in Queensland. We showed such tremendous pace early on, but it wasn’t to be. This can be a tough sport sometimes. The positives from here are the way the cars were running: we were one-two without too much trouble. Just looking at the times we were doing in the superspecials compared with last year, we’ve pulled five seconds out of some of the guys, in just a couple of kilometres. That’s a real step for PROTON. The suspension and engine are really coming together, which makes it all the more frustrating that we couldn’t make this one stick. Obviously, it’s a tough one for me, this being my home event. We had some good support out there on the stages. This was a big rally for me and the team. It’s just a shame we couldn’t put it together to back up the win in Malaysia.”

Alister McRae said:
“At the end of the opening day, things were looking good for Bill [Hayes, co-drive] and I. We’d had an electrical issue of our own on the opening day, which had cost us 50 seconds, but we’d battled back and we were leading. I was happy with that. We hadn’t had to risk everything to get the time back, so I was pretty confident for the next day. It felt like we could control the event and be in a good position to take the win. When we had the alternator problem on the next day, fourth was the result. Championship-wise, the results haven’t shaken out too badly for us, so we’re still in the fight for this year’s title – and, again, the car is showing real potential. We had the speed to win this rally, but it just got away from us.”

Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
“This was a hard-fought rally. While we were hoping for a better result, fourth place amid an unfortunate last day will, nevertheless, go a long way to extending our position in the manufacturers’ championship. Alister [McRae] did an exceptional job in not dropping more time while nursing the car home. He takes first-placed points from day one and a fourth overall today – and we also saw a class win for Gunaseelan Rajoo (MYS) in his PROTON.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“The alternators on both cars were overcharging and causing an electrical issue in the cars. We homologated new parts to cure this problem, but obviously we’re going to go back to the UK to find a solution. I can’t tell you how much frustration there is in the team. Like the boys have said, this one was there for the taking. Neither of them was being silly or pushing too hard and we were taking time out of the rest of the drivers in the rally. The engine modifications have worked well here, there’s plenty of torque and power lower down in the rev range; watching the cars coming out of hairpins, it just pulls and pulls. We had absolutely no problems in testing or in any of the pre-event work we did, but it seems when we put the numbers on the doors, there’s something to deal with. Looking at the times we were setting this weekend, compared with those stages 12 months ago, the progression we have made with the car is terrific. We’ll be working on the other issues immediately.”

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