In the dry, the Geko Ypres Rally is recognised as one of Europe’s toughest rallying challenges. In the wet, it becomes a race on a roulette wheel. The PROTON Motorsports team endured a mixed weekend at the table. Giandomenico Basso (Italy) showed great pace before crashing on Saturday morning, while Ypres rookie P-G Andersson (Sweden) rose to the challenge only to miss out on a top-10 finish after putting his Satria Neo S2000 off the road on the final test. He finished 19th.

As well as being one of the toughest events, the Geko Ypres Rally is also one of the most popular in Europe. With a spectacular field of 120 cars, the competition down the straights and through the ditch-lined square corners is always red-hot. And this year was no different as the event got underway at a staggering pace. A change of weather came for the second day, as the overcast conditions delivered the rain they had threatened in time for Saturday morning’s re-start.

When the rain arrives, this rally becomes one for the experts.  Local drivers know which corner to cut and how deep to cut it; slashing their way through the corners pulls a huge amount of mud out onto the road for competitors following. For those who haven’t been on these lanes before, deciding how hard to push on the Teflon-slippery surface is a mighty balancing act to perform. But Andersson managed it, bringing the PROTON home to score a valuable manufacturers’ point for the Malaysian manufacturer.

Basso ran the car in the same specification he used on the previous round in Ukraine, before taking the team’s advice and fine-tuning the PROTON to the precise requirements of the notoriously tough Belgian lanes. He was on the fringes of the top 10 after Friday night, despite cooking the soft tyres he’d elected to run on the second loop of stages. Unfortunately for the double European Rally Champion, that was as far as he would go, after he knocked the front-left wheel off the Satria at a notorious corner in the Proven-Vieteren stage first thing on Saturday morning.

Andersson’s times improved as he continued to level his learning curve on this rally. The Swede visited a couple of fields on his way through the event, but he posted more and more top-10 times as the event progressed and he was chasing an overall result and IRC points to reflect those times when he took a rear wheel off his PROTON on the final test.

Andersson’s efforts were well received by the incredible crowds who lined the route and combined to make the centre of Ypres on Friday night one of the atmospheric highlights in the European season. Once again, PROTON made plenty of new friends and a manufacturers’ point for PROTON ensured a return for those who rolled the ball and came up with ‘yellow eight.’

P-G Andersson said:
“I was learning something new all of the time on this rally. I’d never been to Ypres before, so I really didn’t have much of an idea of what was coming – and it was a very specialised rally. The more experience I got the more comfortable I felt with the car and better everything was working, although I did go off the road on a couple of occasions while I was pushing quite hard early on. The car was working well and I think we would have finished inside the top 10, if I hadn’t clipped something with the rear of the car on the final stage.”

Giandomenico Basso said:
“Everything was looking quite good until there was a small wall in the grass and I didn’t see it. I cut the corner, hit the wall and took the front wheel off the car, it wasn’t possible to continue. It’s very disappointing because we really had the potential to make the good result here and I was really hoping that would happen for all of the team, but it’s not possible and it’s really a shame.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“The drivers have said it all for me here. This has been a disappointing event. Once again, we’ve shown good pace, but because of some mistakes we haven’t been able reap the rewards of the improvements we’ve made to the car. The whole team knows how important it is for us to start registering scores in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and I feel this was something of a missed opportunity to get a decent haul of points. Granted, it is a difficult rally to come to for the first time – it’s not just another asphalt rally – and that job is made even tougher when we get some changeable conditions, but a couple of top 10 finishes would have been very nice this weekend. We came here on a high after finishing first and third in New Caledonia and we’re back to the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for New Zealand [International Rally of Whangarei, July 15-17] in a couple of weeks; the whole team’s looking forward to that event and I think we’re certainly chasing a third win of the APRC year down under.”

Event data
Round: 5/12, Intercontinental Rally Challenge
Based: Ypres, Belgium
Stages: 18
Surface: asphalt
Liaison distance: 361.98km
Competitive distance: 287.89km
Total distance: 649.87km
Conditions: 20 degrees, dry-wet-dry
Day one leader: Freddy Loix (BEL)
Winner: Freddy Loix (BEL)
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