Rejoining international rallying after a five-year break, PROTON’s return to the coveted Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) has paid off handsomely when it emerged second in the Manufacturer’s Championship in its first full season.
A one-two finish at the recently-concluded China Rally last weekend by Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson reaffirmed the Malaysian car manufacturer’s resolve, determination and competitiveness in the global rallying arena as it placed itself between the traditionally-dominant manufacturers Mitsubishi and Subaru.
As an added bonus, the spirited drive by McRae also earned the Scottish driver third placing in the APRC Driver’s Championship and an even bigger cause for celebration at the PROTON camp.
Victory in China closes PROTON’s international rally campaign for the year on a high after seeing its drivers and the Satria Neo S2000 car endure a series of misfortunes that had often denied the team of more podium finishes.
“We are elated with this victory and it reaffirms the Satria Neo S2000 and PROTON’s competitiveness as a manufacturer on the international rally arena. Considering we had declared from the very beginning of the season that this year would be one that is devoted to testing and development, coming second in the APRC Manufacturer’s Championship is certainly a cause for celebration,” said PROTON Holdings Berhad Group Managing Director Dato’ Haji Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir.
“While our performance throughout the season has been hampered by a series of misfortunes, overall, we enjoyed a good outing in terms of brand building, awareness and international exposure based on the level of interest received from spectators, the international media and competitors alike.”
PROTON had competed in five of the six APRC rounds this year that began with the Rally of Malaysia, Rally of Japan, Rally of New Zealand and Rally of Australia. The team had looked forward to scoring more points in the Rally of Indonesia but the event was cancelled by FIA due to weather condition which was not fit for a rally event. Prior to China, PROTON’s best result was a second place in the Rally of New Zealand.
In addition to the APRC, the Satria Neo S2000 had also competed in this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) where it went head to head with the likes of more established Manufacturer Teams that included Peugeot, Skoda, Ford, Abarth Fiat, Honda as well as Mitsubishi and Subaru.
Acknowledging that to excel in international rallying requires time, investment and continuity, Dato’ Haji Syed Zainal Abidin said motorsports is one of several key strategies being pursued to establish PROTON as a global brand. Motorsports has proven to be an ideal and cost-effective platform for the company to generate greater brand awareness in the countries it exports its vehicles to. Equally important, it has also provided PROTON the opportunity to showcase the reliability, strength and performance of the Satria Neo.
“Motorsports builds an emotional bond between car manufacturers and enthusiasts, it helps to inject excitement into the brand or a particular model, it propels sales, it provides a platform in which technology and technical know-how can be used to enhance future road-going models, and as one excels it extends recognition and underlines brand superiority.”
In terms of exposure, both the APRC and IRC events command enormous publicity and television viewers worldwide to promote the PROTON brand globally. The APRC is available to television audiences in over 129 countries and in 2009, reached an audience of 390 million viewers. The IRC meanwhile, is broadcast via Eurosports TV in 59 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa and America reaching 240 million television viewers. In addition, PROTON has also garnered enormous support, interest and following via the posting of updates on its rallies over social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Such is the popularity of the Satria Neo S2000 in both the APRC and IRC that an up-and-coming privateer is currently racing the car in the United Kingdom and more recently, a top Japanese team is also looking into the possibility of fielding the Satria Neo in next year’s Asia Cup category in the APRC,” Dato’ Haji Syed Zainal Abidin added.
PROTON last competed as a factory-backed team at the 2004 Rally of Canberra in which it finished fifth in the overall classifications. Throughout its years of international rallying, PROTON has won the APRC title three times in 2001, 2002 and 2004. In 2002 PROTON also won the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship on its debut.
In China, the Satria Neo S2000 stamped its competitiveness by being the only Super 2000 rally car to compete against a field largely dominated by the turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza rally cars.
In a rally so rough and one that had taken a heavy toll on so many competitors, only 24 of the original 44 starters completed the two-day event held in the mountainous region and bamboo forests just outside of Longyou city. The rally included the participation of manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volkswagen, Suzuki, Honda, Citroen, Peugeot, Cherry and BYD.
A further stamp of approval to PROTON’s success in China was also the debut of four Proton Gen2s that completed the 229.19km rally. The cars are known in China as the Europestar, under an OEM collaboration between PROTON and Zhejiang Youngman Passenger Car Group Co. Ltd.
PROTON, established in 1983, is Malaysia’s largest manufacturer of automobiles, and the only full-fledged OEM car manufacturer in South-East Asia. With operations in key markets from UK to the Middle East, and across South-East Asia and Australasia, especially in countries like China and Iran, PROTON produces cars to suit a range of consumer demands and preferences.
Its offerings include versatile and reliable four-door family vehicles, two-door hatchbacks for the young-at-heart, luxurious and stylish executive sedans, spacious and affordable multi-purpose vehicles, as well as the world-renowned sports cars from Lotus. Most importantly, PROTON models are now developed with Lotus Engineering, offering customers superior ride and handling experience in every drive.
PROTON’s inception as a key driver of national development has seen the brand accelerate its learning curve through technology transfer with strategic partnerships and technical collaborations. By listening to the needs of customers, PROTON cars are now steadily on track to achieve the mission for the future, with PROTON set to become a marque which builds cars with passion and soul; cars that are a delight to drive – and a pleasure to own.