|International Rally of Whangarei reviewJuly 17, 2011
PROTON Motorsports’ domination of this year’s FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship goes on. Satria Neo S2000 drivers Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae finished first and second in the APRC standings on the International Rally of Whangarei, which ended in New Zealand today.
Atkinson (Australia) has now won three from four APRC rounds this season and now holds a 21-point advantage over McRae (Great Britain) in what is looking increasingly like an all-PROTON fight for this year’s drivers’ title. The nearest non-PROTON driver is now 46 points adrift in third.
PROTON’s position at the top of the manufacturers’ standings is looking equally strong, following the Malaysian firm’s perfect one-two score on what was one of the toughest, longest and most arduous rounds of the series.
The local competition on New Zealand’s north island is tougher than anywhere else in the championship, with highly rated Kiwi Hayden Paddon providing the sternest challenge to the PROTONs.
Atkinson drove magnificently through wet conditions on yesterday’s opening leg (Saturday) to arrive at evening service with a 6.2-seconds advantage from Paddon, with McRae in the thick of the fight in third.
Atkinson’s only issue yesterday was running a harder tyre than he thought necessary, while McRae suffered a broken intercom mid-way through the second run at the event’s longest stage (SS6, Bull, 40.63km) and felt he should have taken a narrower Michelin in the morning.
Today, however, was all about Atkinson. Fastest on the first three stages of the day, the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship leader demonstrated the stunning pace he’d used to such devastating effect to win in Malaysia and New Caledonia earlier this season.
In total, Atkinson won five from eight Sunday stages to seal what he described as his most satisfying win of the season.
Even the New Zealand weather, which had been wet for the week prior to the event, improved as the Queenslander closed on victory over local ace Paddon, who had won this event three times before.
McRae’s hopes of clinching his first win of the season went south when he spun on the opener this morning and then discovered a minor water leak on the final loop of stages. After such a dominant performance the Scotsman was so far ahead of his nearest APRC competition, he could afford to ease off through the event’s final two stages and still ensure PROTON of its historic one-two on the FIA-qualifier.
Chris Atkinson said:
“This has been a fantastic rally. These roads really are the best in the world. They give you so much confidence all the time. Even in the tricky conditions, in the heavy rain we had, you know you can still push on down these stages. They’re so good to drive and to fight on. Yesterday, we didn’t have the right tyre; I think we could have run the soft compound, I struggled a little getting the heat into the tyre. But today, it’s been perfect. We were fastest this morning and, once I knew I could contain Hayden [Paddon], the focus was on doing just that all day. Like I said, these rallies reward an attacking style and I felt I could have gone quicker if I needed to today, which is also good for my confidence as a driver. It’s been a fantastic team performance. This event really shows how good the car is and how hard the team has worked in the last 12 months. A year ago, Paddon was beating us by 30 seconds or a minute in places, but this time around we’ve really shown what the PROTON is capable of. Winning in a place like this, where the competition is always given such a hard time by the really good local drivers, means a huge amount to me – it’s also pretty good for the championship!”
Alister McRae said:
“We came here looking to take some points off Chris [Atkinson], but that hasn’t really worked out. I have to hand it to him on this event, he has driven very, very well. We had a few niggling things, like the wrong tyre, the intercom and the spin this morning, but even with a clean run I think we would have struggled to get past him. Even though we had mixed fortunes on this event, I’ve really enjoyed the rally – you always do on these roads – and we’ve shown again the good steps we’ve taken with the car. The big thing here is the one-two in APRC for PROTON, that’s a great result for us and it’s only going to help for the manufacturers’ title. As for the drivers’ title, it looks like that could be between Chris and myself. I’m certainly not about to give up, we’re still in there fighting and we go to Japan and the next round looking to get ahead of him and set up a thriller of a final round in China.”
Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood (Head of PROTON Motorsports) said:
“This has been a fantastic result for PROTON and a further testimony to the Satria Neo S2000 coming of age in international rallying. Tremendous effort has gone into the development of the car and it’s incredibly rewarding to see the hard work beginning to pay huge dividends.”
Chris Mellors (team principal) said: with the cars all weekend; we haven’t put a spanner on them. The conditions were quite tricky. We had some torrential rain, which made the roads really slippery, but Chris [Atkinson] and Alister [McRae] drove brilliantly. Neither of them put a mark on the car and they finished one-two in APRC, nobody can ask for more than that, like I said: it’s perfect. I think this result really shows the way the development of the car is coming along as well; look where we were last year, struggling to match some of the local drivers and this time we have come along and beaten them. A good weekend.”
“This is what all the hard work is about, weekend’s like these: the perfect result for PROTON Motorsports. Everybody has worked so hard for this and it’s all come good. Beyond a small water leak on Alister’s car right at the end, there’s been absolutely nothing
Round: 4/6, FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Whangarei, New Zealand
Liaison distance: 398.76km
Competitive distance: 301.90km
Total distance: 700.66km
Conditions: 15 degrees, rain
Day one leader: Chris Atkinson (PROTON)
Winner: Chris Atkinson (PROTON)
The 2011 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship
Malaysian Rally (April 1-3)
International Rally of Queensland (May 13-15)
Rally de Nouvelle Caledonie (June 17-19)
Rally of Whangarei (July 16-17)
Rally Hokkaido (September 30-October 2)
China Rally Longyou (November 4-6)