PROTON Motorsports team principal Chris Mellors says Rallye Sanremo, which ended in Italy last night, represents the Satria Neo S2000’s most competitive outing in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge to date.

PROTON driver Giandomenico Basso was running at the front of the field from the start of one of the season’s most popular – and competitive – events on Friday afternoon. The double FIA European Rally Champion’s time on the opener was just 7.6 seconds off the fastest time on the twisty roads high in the Ligurian Alps. On stage two he lowered that gap to just 2.8 seconds – and beat current IRC series leader Jan Kopecky’s factory Skoda on the Bajardo test.

Basso remained in the thick of the fight until the fearsome 44-kilometre Ronde stage late in Friday night. Basso didn’t hear a pace note call from his co-driver Mitia Dotta and they went off the road at a junction, damaging the right side of the PROTON. They lost four minutes getting through the stage, dropping out of the top 10 for the first time on the final asphalt rally of the IRC season.

With the car fixed, Basso was immediately back in the grove the next morning and began reeling those ahead of him in. By the end of the event, he was back in the top 10 after further demonstrating the pace of the PROTON on one of the twistiest and toughest rallies of the season.

Basso’s team-mate Chris Atkinson retired early in the event with an electrical issue on his Satria Neo S2000.

Buoyed by the speed shown in Sanremo, the team heads east for the next round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, Rally Hokkaido, which starts on Friday (September 30).

Giandomenico Basso said:
“Apart from the problem we had on the dark stage, this rally was very good for the team. We have made good progress with the car again. On Friday afternoon we were right there and able to make some very good stage times. We got back to the top 10 after the problem, which was good, but we could have finished higher up.”

Chris Atkinson said:
“It was a huge disappointment to stop early in the event. We’d had a good test, the recce had gone well and we were really looking forward to the rally. Unfortunately, this is the sport times. Fortunately for me and the team, we don’t have time to dwell on this: it’s straight on to Japan for Rally Hokkaido for all of us.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“This was undoubtedly one of our strongest events from a pace perspective. As Chris [Atkinson] has said, losing his car so early was very disappointing and very frustrating. I’m very confident he would have gone really well on this event – especially given the pace Giandomenico was showing. It’s that speed which is the real positive for us here in Italy. We’ve been analysing the split times and the data from the car and we can see the work we’ve done on the engine is really paying dividends. On uphill sections, where we would possibly have dropped time on previous rallies, we’re right there with the rest of them. Compared with 12 months ago, we have come a very, very long way with this car and that’s testament to the effort from the team in Malaysia and the guys back at base in the UK. Everybody works 24/7 for us and when you have moments like the second stage – when he was a couple of seconds off fastest – it’s some payback for that effort. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting very close now.”
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