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The PROTON R3 Rally Team turned in precisely the confidence-boosting performance the team needed on this weekend's third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the International Rally of Whangarei, with Alister McRae taking second in his Satria Neo S2000.

Both Scotsman McRae and his team-mate, Australian Chris Atkinson, were on the pace throughout the New Zealand event. Former British Rally Champion McRae only missed out on winning the Asia Pacific Rally Championship round after double New Zealand Rally Champion Hayden Paddon received a wildcard entry for the APRC element of the Kiwi competition.

Both McRae and Atkinson were driving with a finish and points as their main priority on the two-day event, which ran in dry sunny conditions on Saturday and heavy rain today (Sunday). But, despite a slightly conservative approach from the PROTON R3 Rally Team, both drivers were regularly in the top three APRC times, despite giving best in terms of local knowledge to all the crews around them.

Atkinson was the quicker of the two Satrias out of the blocks on Saturday morning and the Queenslander kept his PROTON ahead of the McRae car until he was foiled by a freak failure of the alternator belt on the fourth test. Atkinson returned on Sunday in the best possible fashion with fastest time on today's sodden opener.

McRae, however, kept up the pressure at the sharp end of the leaderboard and was rewarded with an entirely untroubled second place.

The PROTON R3 Rally Team will now turn its attention to the fourth round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the International Rally of Queensland at the end of the month.

Quotes:

Alister McRae said:
"I knew the car was capable of this kind of performance, and I know it's capable of going quicker as well. Taking second in the APRC here is really important for the team, it's a real shot in the arm for everybody. But now we want to win. We know we have the pace to win these APRC rounds and that's got to be the next step in Australia at the end of the month. In the end, we had the perfect rally. We didn't have to touch the car at all, the boys didn't lay a spanner on the PROTON once, which is really encouraging from a reliability point of view. We weren't going anywhere near flat out with the car, though. The main aim from this event was to pick up points and that's what we have done. What a great place to go rallying, though. Even in the pouring rain today, it was fantastic to drive those stages again. You can really put the hammer down and push on, knowing the car's going to stick before leaping over the cambers and into the corner. It's been a great weekend."

Chris Atkinson said:
"I love the roads down here in New Zealand and this car suited the stages perfectly. I was amazed at just how much speed you could carry through the corners in this car, there's so much grip in the PROTON, it's fantastic. We managed to set some competitive times on this event, which is pleasing. But what's more important is that we know what we were doing to set those times and, believe me, there's more to come from the car. We arrived in Whangarei with a bit of pressure on, you know we hadn't pulled the result we might have done in the IRC round [at Ypres] and while we'd shown great stage times and Alister led and almost won in Malaysia, we needed to put some points away down here. Unfortunately for us, we had a freak thing with the alternator belt on the first day: had it not been for that I reckon there would have been two PROTONs on the podium and who knows who would have been on which step! This has been a really positive and encouraging weekend."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
"I'm happy with that result. Both drivers were out there under strict instructions about how to drive the cars, so we know there's more to come from the Satria and Alister and Chris. I was really pleased with the way Chris went in particular, he showed some great speed and set some very good times, some of which we're told were close to stage records set in the dry. Alister was, as usual, very competitive, quick and consistent. We've had a bit of a tough run recently, so to be heading home with a result, second place under our belts, puts more wind in the sails. We're going to be doing some more testing and more development work ahead of the next APRC round in Queensland. Like Alister said, we want to take that next step up the podium."

Event data:

Round: 3/7, FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Whangarei, New Zealand
Stages: 16
Liaison distance: 470.46km
Competitive distance: 285.26km
Total distance: 755.72km
Conditions: 14 degrees, sunny then heavy rain
Day one leader: Hayden Paddon (NZ) Mitsubishi
Winner: Hayden Paddon (NZ) Mitsubishi

Next event:

International Rally of Queensland, Australia (July 30-August 1)
Based on the Sunshine Coast, competitors in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship will not have far to go to the next fixture of the series, with round four running just the other side of the Tasman Sea on Australia's east coast. This event is running as an APRC round for the second season, but Australia has a long tradition of running APRC rounds in both Perth and Canberra. Based at the SurfAir hotel at Marcoola Beach, the event takes in 20 stages including a Friday night superspecial around the town of Caloundra, where the cars will start at 15-second intervals to ensure near non-stop action. The mainstay of the gravel competition will take place, as it has for the last 19 years on this event, in the forestry roads close to the town of Imbil, two hours north of Brisbane. 
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