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The PROTON Motorsports team will aim to extend its lead at the top of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship on the second round of the series, the International Rally of Queensland, which starts in Imbil next Friday (May 13).

The Malaysian manufacturer dominated its home round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship early last month. Chris Atkinson (Australia) won the event with the sister Satria Neo S2000 of Alister McRae (Britain) third, ensuring PROTON collected two of the three steps on the podium in the Asia-Pacific region’s premier rally series. Courtesy of that strong showing on the Malaysian Rally, PROTON Motorsports leads both the FIA APRC drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships as the focus of the series heads south from Asia to Australia.

The Australian event is one of the most popular rounds of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, running inland from Queensland’s golden beaches on the forest roads adjacent to Imbil and Mary Valley, north of Brisbane.

Both Atkinson and McRae demonstrated great pace on last year’s International Rally of Queensland, winning all but two of the stages. Atkinson, a native Queenslander himself, thrilled his local fans with five fastest times from nine stages completed on the opening day and a further six quickest times from eight tests on the second day. The result, however, eluded PROTON and this time around both Atkinson and McRae are ready to turn that pace and potential from last year into a firm result next week.

The organisers of the event have made small changes to the route, but the nature of the roads remains the same – which is good news for the hard-charging PROTON drivers following their performance in 2010.

The PROTON Motorsports team will test for a day on Tuesday (May 10) in order to finalise the set-up for the two Satria Neo S2000s before what’s certain to be another fascinating east coast battle.

Ahead of the start of the event, the PROTON Motorsports team will take on another challenge: racing a helicopter at Sunshine Coast Airport at Maroochy on Wednesday (May 11). Atkinson’s Satria was pitted against a helicopter last year, with the Malaysia Rally winner coming out on top. This time around, the helicopter will be bigger, faster and out for airborne revenge. Any media wanting to attend the event should arrive at the airport at 0730. Further details are available from International Rally of Queensland press officer Chris Nixon (+61 (0) 418 759417).

Quotes:

Chris Atkinson said:
“It’s great to be back in Australia again and competing just a couple of hours north of where I grew up. At the same time, competing in front of the home crowd does bring an extra element of pressure and expectation – but nobody expects more from me than I do myself. There’s a real feeling in the team that we’re coming back to finish what we started in Queensland last year; we were really quick last time out, but we didn’t get the result. We want to change that this time. It’s been a while since I was in the car competing in Malaysia, so I can’t wait to get back in and get going again. The roads over here are really good, they reward big commitment from the driver, which is what you want. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big battle, particularly with Alister [McRae]. Alister was fast there last year, as he was in Malaysia earlier this year, so he’s certainly going to be one for us to watch. This is not going to be a walk in the park, but we are feeling good coming home off the back of the win.”

Alister McRae said:
“After the way things went in Malaysia, I’m really looking forward to getting in the car for round two in Australia. Given that I live in Perth [Western Australia], this is a little bit like my home rally; having said that, it’s still a five-hour flight over to the other side of the country, which is a shorter flight than the one we took to get to Malaysia! There’s been quite a lot of rain in the area of the rally, so it’s going to be interesting to see what that has done to the stages since last year. The stages are a really good mix, with some twisty and narrow sections and some double-width roads where you can really push on.  I remember some of the stages having quite a clay-like surface over there in Queensland, so if there is still some damp around it will be quite slippery. The car felt very, very impressive in Mayalsia, after the work the team had done to it over the winter and we’ll be looking to get further performance out of it when we get to the pre-event test on Tuesday next week. For me, the PROTON team has to be looking for another big result and personally, I’ve got to be looking to get the better of Chris [Atkinson], he won in Malaysia and I want to win here, but it’s not going to be easy to beat him with all the local support.”

Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
“After our perfect start to the year in Malaysia, we are looking to build on that with a similar result in Australia, on next week’s International Rally of Queensland. Australia is a very important market for PROTON and country with a very big sporting tradition. It’s nice that we go from competing on our home round of the championship in Malaysia to competing on Chris [Atkinson’s] home round of the championship. In fact, it’s also Alister [McRae’s] adopted home, so it’s another very important event for us all. Last year, the team showed great speed on this rally, so we are very much looking forward to furthering out great start to the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“The second round of the championship in Queensland will be quite a different rally to the opening event in Malaysia, the stages should suit the Super 2000 cars more, with less tight corners. That really was the case last year, where both drivers set plenty of fastest times on the flowing Queensland roads. This is a great rally, it’s always really well organised and one of the highlights of the year – so we’re all looking forward to the start. We’re still working hard on the car, but the result from Malaysia has given us good confidence going down to Australia.”

Event data
Round: 2/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Caloundra, Sunshine Coast
Stages: 19
Surface: gravel
Liaison distance: 515.93km
Competitive distance: 230.79km
Total distance: 733.65km
Shakedown: Sunshine Coast Industrial Park (Friday May 13, 1000-1200)
Pre-event press conference: Sunshine Coast Industrial Park (Friday May 13, 1200)
Post-event press conference: Imbil School Complex (Sunday May 15, 1630)
Time difference: Spain is GMT+10hrs

Event timetable
Friday May 13
Start Fred Chaplin Circuit                            1920
SS1 Caloundra Shootout 1 (2.26km)          1930
SS2 Caloundra Shootout 2 (2.26km)          2030

Saturday May 14
SS3 Andrew Dodkins 1 (6.00km)               0825
SS4 Derrier 1 (27.12km)                             0843
SS5 Million LA 1 (14.53km)               & nbsp;         0951
SS6 Mitchell Gk 1 (9.45km)                         1022
Service Hella Service Park                            1044
SS7 Andrew Dodkins 2 (6.00km)               1215
SS8 Derrier 2 (27.12km)                             1233
SS9 Million LA 2 (14.53km)                         1341
SS10 Mitchell Gk 2 (9.45km)                       1412
Service Hella Service Park                            1434
SS11 Caloundra Shootout 3 (2.26km)       1900
SS12 Caloundra Shootout 4 (2.26km)       2000

Sunday May 15
SS13 Kandanga 1 (11.95km)                      0858
SS14 Breakneck 1 (8.24km)                                    0931
SS15 Derrier Reverse (27.07km)               1002
SS16 Andrew Dodkins Reverse (5.67km)  1043
Service Hella Service Park                            1113
SS17 Kandanga 2 (11.95km)                      1236
SS18 Breakneck 2 (8.24km)                                    1309
SS19 Big Derrier (34.43km)                                    1340
Finish Hella Service Park                              1500
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