PROTON Motorsports will aim to finish the job it started on last year’s International Rally of Queensland, when this year’s event gets underway in Caloundra next week.
The Satria-Neo S2000s were running first and second on the Sunshine Coast in 2011 and that’s where P-G Andersson (Sweden) and Alister McRae (Great Britain) aim to finish on next week’s third round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.
The Malaysian machines enjoyed total domination of last year’s APRC, winning both the drivers’ and the manufacturers’ titles in PROTON Motorsport’s most prolific season to date. And this year has started in a similar vein with the Satria-Neo S2000s showing exceptional speed to lead both APRC rounds so far – while also dominating the early running in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship.
The southern tip of Australia’s celebrated Sunshine Coast is the venue for the International Rally of Queensland, which kicks off with a ceremonial start on Friday (May 25) evening. All eyes will, however, be on the gravel roads inland from the coast over the weekend.
And those roads thread their way through some of Australia’s finest forest stages close to the town of Imbil in the Mary Valley. The close proximity of the stages to the service park allows the teams an almost unique opportunity to get out and watch the cars they only usually see when they’re working under the bonnet.
With the southern hemisphere tipping from autumn into winter, temperatures will be expected to hover around 20 degrees, with potential for showers over the rally period.
But the PROTON Motorsports team will deal with whatever conditions are laid before them as defending APRC champion McRae looks to improve on the fourth place he managed there last season. Two-time Junior World Rally Champion Andersson is making his debut on the e ast coast roads. A lack of knowledge of the terrain is clearly no problem for the Scandinavian, as he showed with a devastating turn of pace on his first run through the New Caledonian stages last month.
All APRC rounds are tough events and the International Rally of Queensland is no exception. The demanding nature of this rally continues right until the end with the sting in the tail provided perfectly with the 33-kilometre Big Derrier test.
The primary aim of the PROTON Motorsports team next week is to sting the opposition and deliver the kind of APRC result which laid the foundations of the Malaysian manufacturer’s epic 2011 season.
Alister McRae said:
“The roads on the International Rally of Queensland are a bit of a mixture between New Caledonia and New Zealand, they’re very good – and the event itself is really enjoyable as well. The Sunshine Coast is a great part of Australia and the locals really come out in force to support the event. The weather, I believe, has been quite dry over there for a while now, so there is likely to be some loose gravel around on the surface of the road, which could make it a little bit difficult for us running at the front on day one. We’ve had a tough start to the year and we need to start putting some points down and that’s going to be the aim for this rally.”
P-G Andersson said:
“We want to win this event. It’s been quite a frustrating start to my first APRC season, we have shown we have the speed, but we haven’t been able to turn that potential into points and wins. This will be quite a tough event, I think. Like the last round in New Caledonia, it’s a rally which I don’t know at all. Having said that, I don’t think it can be as tough as New Cal - I don’t think I have ever driven on a more tricky surface. Even without the rain, the grip was so hard to call there. Hopefully, in Queensland the grip will be a bit more consistent. Chris ￼[Atkinson] is the local guy down there, so he’s going to be hard to beat but that’s what we have to do. We start this rally like we start every rally: ready to win.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
“We have a very straightforward plan for this event: to win. P-G and Alister have demonstrated they have the pace and the Satria has the speed, now all we need is to make ourselves a little bit of luck. This is a good, well- organised rally and one we have always enjoyed – we’re hoping to enjoy it a little bit more with a big win next week.”