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PROTON Motorsports drivers Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae start next week’s Rally de Nouvelle Caledonie with their sights set on a second victory from three Asia-Pacific Rally Championship rounds in the Satria Neo S2000.

The third round of the APRC starts from the capital of New Caledonian, Noumea on Friday (June 17) afternoon. Scotsman McRae spearheads PROTON’s challenge, arriving on the south-west Pacific island second in the title race, with Atkinson (Australia) two places behind him.

PROTON dominated the opening APRC round of the series, at home in Malaysia, and looked like repeating that performance on the second event in Queensland, Australia, before dropping back from the front of the field. PROTON’s Satria Neo S2000 does, however, remain the class of this year’s APRC field with more fastest times than any other manufacturer.

The fast and flowing stages on next week’s rally will suit the PROTON’s ever-improving power and driveability, empowering McRae and Atkinson to carry the fight to their rivals on what has to be one of the most picturesque rallies in the world.

Sitting 750 miles east of Australia and 900 miles north-west of New Zealand, the action takes place on the Grande Terre, the largest island in the archipelago. The mountainous nature of this 6,300-square metre island mean rain is always a possibility. While the event takes place in the southern hemisphere’s winter, temperatures are still expected around 20 degrees.

The stages offer a stunning mix of inland roads through the forests and rich vegetation and the coastline roads, where one mistake could provide man and machine with a closer-than-expected glimpse of the South Pacific.

McRae and Atkinson will test their PROTONs in New Caledonia on Tuesday, when they will focus on finding the perfect set-up for the 19-stage event.

Chris Atkinson said:
“We’ve led the first two – and won the first round – of the championship, so we know we’ve got the pace to be at the front of the field. I was really impressed with what the team had done with the car, just between Malaysia and Queensland, the engine was great, but then we had a few issues. The team have worked really hard to get those things sorted and you could see from the pace on the last intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) round how close the car is to the other factory S2000s; we’re very close with this car now. I’ve done the rally in New Caledonia once before and I remember fast and narrow roads which will suit our car. I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car and showing what PROTON can do again.”

Alister McRae said:
“There’s always something really interesting about going to a new place and a new rally and that’s the case for me in New Caledonia. I’ve heard plenty about it, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the roads. I’ve heard it’s a mixture of Queensland and New Zealand, which should be good for us and the PROTON: both of those events suit the Super 2000 car. I’ve watched some in-car from previous years and it looks as though the surface is quite clay-like, which will get very slippery if it gets wet. We’re looking for a good result from this event; we’re looking for a win. The [Asia-Pacific Rally] Championship is still wide open and we really want a result to put the disappointment of Queensland behind us – and to get us to the top of the table. I think everybody can see the potential of the Satria Neo S2000 now, the pace is very impressive – and we’re out to demonstrate that pace in a new part of the world next week.”

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“We know we’ve got the speed to win this rally. We have addressed the issues we had in Australia and we’re happy, very happy with the way the car’s running ahead of New Caledonia. The team has competed on this event before and we have a very good idea of where we’re going with the car set-up. We’re quietly confident of a good result – a repeat of the first and third we took in Malaysia would be nice.”

Event data:
Round: 3/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Noumea, New Caledonia
Stages: 19
Liaison distance: 387.41km
Competitive distance: 223.73km
Total distance: 611.14km
Shakedown: Noumea (Friday June 17, 0730-1030)
Pre-event press conference: Ramada Hotel, Noumea (Friday June 17, 1030)
Post-event press conference: Finish podium, Noumea (Sunday June 19, 1600)
Time difference: Malaysia is GMT+11hrs
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