The PROTON R3 Rally Team will begin its Intercontinental Rally Challenge programme on this week's Ypres Rally.

The PROTON team will field two cars for Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson, while a third, semi-works, car will be driven by Tom Cave. The Ypres Rally, which starts on Friday afternoon and finishes the following night, will be the first significant competition on asphalt for the drivers. The three did contest the Rallye de le Haute Senne (a small Belgian national event) on Saturday, with Atkinson and Cave taking second and third behind former European Rally Champion Patrick Snijers, who was competing on the event as a shakedown for his entry on his home nation's biggest motorsport event.

Like his PROTON team-mate McRae was running right at the sharp end of the 11-stage event, when his Satria developed a misfire on the engine and, given that the rally was an extended test, McRae sacrificed his chance of winning and switched the engine off. The Scotsman remains firmly focused on this week's challenge.

And what a challenge the Ypres Rally will be. The IRC boasts its strongest Super 2000 entry ever on one of Europe's toughest asphalt rallies. The PROTON R3 Rally team will face 19 stages and close to 300 kilometers of competition in just 30 hours.

This week's sixth round of the IRC will be PROTON's first outing in the hugely popular series since McRae took second overall on the final round of IRC 2009, the Rally of Scotland.

The roads in McRae's native land couldn't be more different to the challenge which lies in wait in Belgium this week. The only thing which might be similar is the weather. Like Scotland, Belgium can be prone to the kind of sudden downpour which can turn a rally on its head. The all-asphalt Ypres stages, full of long straights and square junctions, are a world away from the flowing gravel of Rally of Scotland.

Alister McRae said:
"I've done Ypres three times before and I like it. The last time I did it was 15 years ago or something like that, so I can't actually remember it very well. I wouldn't say it's an event I love, though. We've had a few issues with some of the ditches over there in the past! It's certainly not an easy rally. Looking at it, you'd think it was pretty straightforward with some long straights followed by square corners, but it's anything but straightforward. Because everybody is travelling at pretty much the same speed down the straights, the key to Ypres is in the braking and the traction from the car under braking. You want to leave it as late as possible before you come off the gas because that's where the time is going to be won and lost on this event. But, leave it a nanosecond too late and that could be the end of your rally. And then, just to really spice things up, the weather can usually turn wet. It's a really interesting event. Obviously, it's our first IRC event in the PROTON on asphalt. We've done some testing, and the small rally last weekend, which has really helped. The car feels very strong on Tarmac. We're running the new engine specification with the taller gearing, which will make the Satria Neo S2000 a very strong package on the rally. As for a result, that's a big question: there are only 24 other S2000 cars out there for us to beat! It's going to be a tough one. There are plenty of locals out there who have done this event year after year, plus we're still finding out more and more about the Satria on asphalt; points would be a very, very good result on this rally!"

Chris Atkinson said:
"What do I know about Belgium? Not much. I have a Belgian co-driver in Stephane Prevot, so I've been there a few times to see him. I know a few Belgian cyclists and I've actually ridden a bike through Belgium a few times, so I know a little bit about the roads on two wheels. Seriously, though, I don't know too much about this event. I know it's got an awesome reputation as one of Europe's toughest asphalt rallies and an incredible reputation for having a great atmosphere, with all of the villages on the route coming out to support the rally. There's a real aura been created around this rally. The crucial thing on this event, as everywhere, will be getting a good set of pace notes. We're going to be doing some stages in the dusk, which is worse and harder than driving competitively in the pitch black. And, at the same time, this is quite a long event: it's almost a WRC round in terms of distance in half the time of a WRC round. It's nice to be seeded where I am [number three], but at the end of the day it's about where you finish rather than where you start. I really like asphalt driving and, from the testing we have done so far, you can see this car suits asphalt. It's got a great engine and it's so light, it's like a racing car! I can't wait to get started, particularly after the stages we did on the test event on Saturday. That rally was really useful for us. I don't think the stages were an exact fit, but it awesome to get the PROTON running on Tarmac, even if we were driving with Ypres in mind. Coming back to Ypres, it's been a while since we've been in this kind of fierce competition. We have to be realistic, the entry for the event is massive so a top 10 would be a solid result for us to build on for the rest of the asphalt rallies to come."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
"I'm very happy with the way Saturday's rally [Rallye de la Haute Senne] went. Both Chris and Alister did what we wanted. It wasn't about the result or the stage times, this rally was about getting data on the car on these kind of roads. And we got lots of data. The good thing about this event was that it ran in four loops of three stages, which meant we could make changes to the car after every loop. Not all of the stages were going in the right direction, but that's what a test event is about. On the whole we have made good steps forward with the car, we're happy going to Ypres. It was a shame Alister's car developed a misfire on the second loop. We told him to pull over, not wanting to risk the engine in any way for this weekend, it just wasn't worth it. I was pleased with the way Chris drove, though, he's clearly getting to grips with the car. And then there was Tom [Cave in a semi-works PROTON]; for Tom to finish third was a very good result for him, we're all looking forward to Ypres now."

Event data:
Round: 6/12, Intercontinental Rally Challenge
Based: Ypres, Belgium
Stages: 19
Liaison distance: 357.68km
Competitive distance: 293.62km
Total distance: 651.30km
Shakedown: Nieuwkerke (Thursday June 24, 1800-2300)
Pre-event press conference: Novotel Hotel (Friday June 25, 1430)
Post-event press conference: Novotel Hotel (Saturday June 26, 2400)
Time difference: Belgium is GMT+1hrs

Event timetable:
Friday June 25
Start Ypres Rally Centre: 1600
SS1 Hollebeke 1 (28.82km): 1629
SS2 Westouter 1 (6.04km): 1720
SS3 Mesen-Sauvegarde 1 (14.80km): 1800
Service Ypres Rally Centre: 1925
SS4 Hollebeke 2 (28.82km): 2006
SS5 Westouter 2 (6.04km): 2057
SS6 Mesen-Sauvegarde 2 (14.80km): 2137
Service Ypres Rally Centre: 2205

Saturday June 26
SS7 Proven-Vleteren 1 (14.80km): 1113
SS8 Watou 1 (12.33km): 1131
SS9 Kemmelberg 1 (10.23km): 1212
Service Ypres Rally Centre: 1301
SS10 Langemark 1 (18.84km): 1341
SS11 Dikkebus 1 (11.32km): 1416
SS12 Heuvelland 1 (28.80km): 1443
SS13 Lille-Eurometropole (1.66km): 1556
Service Ypres Rally Centre: 1720
SS14 Proven-Vleteren 2 (14.80km): 1813
SS15 Watou 2 (12.33km): 1831
SS16 Kemmelberg 2 (10.23km): 1 912
Service Ypres Rally Centre: 1941
SS17 Langemark 2 (18.84km): 2041
SS18 Dikkebus 2 (11.32km): 2116
SS19 Heuvelland 2 (28.80km): 2143
Finish Ypres Rally Centre: 2240
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