PROTON CAN CLINCH 2011 APRC TITLE IN RALLY HOKKAIDO
All eyes will be on PROTON at this weekend’s Rally Hokkaido as driver Chris Atkinson prepares for what could be his toughest event yet this season, and one that could equally propel him to winning his first and this year’s Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) Driver’s title.
The Australian has been a dominating force in the Satria Neo S2000 in his debut season on the APRC circuit, winning three out of four rounds, and another victory in Japan will most certainly see him being crowned the 2011 APRC champion with the final round the China Rally to be contested in November.
The outcome of the championship could also be decided depending on how his nearest rivals finish this weekend. Currently second overall in the driver’s championship and within striking distance is PROTON team mate Alister McRae who with 86 points is just 23 points adrift of Atkinson. In third and fourth places respectively are Indian driver Gaurav Gill at 63 points and Indonesian Rifat Sungkar with 47 points who could still mathematically clinch the title.
“This week’s going to be no different. It is possible for us to win the championship here, but I’m honestly not thinking about that at all. We’re completely focused on the event itself,” said Atkinson who has already clinched the 2011 FIA Pacific Cup Driver’s title with two victories from the three rounds contested this year (Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand). His last major title was winning the Asia Pacific Super 1600 Championship in 2003 and 2004.
“The car has been really strong in the APRC this season. The priority for us this week is to get both cars to the finish to make sure PROTON scores the maximum points in the FIA APRC manufacturers’ championship. The entire PROTON team is committed to be better and we have done just that in every rally.”
With plenty at stake, PROTON will face a field dominated by Mitsubishis and Subarus in a rally in which the long special stages is more than likely to give the turbocharged cars a distinct advantage over the normally-aspirated Satria Neo S2000 cars.
“We found last year that this is a pretty tough event for the Super 2000 cars, with a lot of very long straights. The team has made some changes to the gear ratios this time around, so we will have a higher top speed. At the same time, we’re always going to struggle to match the higher speed of the conventional Group N cars with their turbochargers. But that’s not going to stop us trying,” said PROTON team mate McRae.
“I enjoyed this event last year and led it for a while. We’re targeting a win in Japan this time round, but as well as the local drivers, I think our biggest rival could be the Australian guy in the other yellow car! Atkinson has had a very good year and he’s going to be tough for us to beat. But, if we want the championship, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
PROTON currently leads the APRC Manufacturer’s title with 132 points, with Mitsubishi a close second with 119 points and Subaru a distant third place with 39 points. PROTON also currently leads the APRC Teams Trophy with 185 points. McRae meanwhile, is second and still in contention of winning the FIA Asia Cup Driver’s title and is just seven points behind Gill.
With Japan and China to be contested, PROTON however, has already sealed the FIA 2WD Manufacturer’s title with 145 points, with Renault in second place with 39 points. Japanese driver Akira Bamba in the Group N 1600cc Satria Neo has also built an unassailable lead to clinch the FIA APRC Junior Cup Driver’s title. Malaysian driver and multiple APRC winner Karamjit Singh meanwhile, is leading the FIA APRC Rally Cup Driver’s 2WD title with 115 points in the second Group N Satria Neo 1600cc.
Rally Hokkaido will take place in Obihiro and run over 19 gravel special stages with a competitive distance of 222.89km. Day 1 opens on Friday with a 1.2km super special stage for spectators before continuing on Saturday with another 10 special stages. The third and final day will be run over eight special stages.