PROTON Rallye de France Preview

PROTON Rallye de France PreviewFrom Proton Press [ 01/10/2012 ].
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PROTON Motorsports arrives in France for its first asphalt round of the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship since January's Rallye Monte-Carlo this week - with the Malaysian manufacturer hoping to extend its advantage at the top of the table.

P-G Andersson (Sweden) continues to lead the SWRC standings and remains in confident mood going into Rallye de France Alsace. Despite this week being Andersson’s first time competing on the Strasbourg-based event, the lead Satria-Neo S2000 driver has a wealth of experience on sealed surfaces, having won asphalt events on his way to two Junior World Rally Championship titles earlier in his career.

PROTON Motorsports has only been off the podium once in the five SWRC rounds run so far this season - an exceptional achievement for the team in its first year at the highest level of Super 2000 world rallying.

In preparation for Rallye de France Alsace, PROTON Motorsports tested extensively in the same region earlier this month, dialling the Satria into the precise requirements of the wide variety of French roads which will be used next week.

Starting from Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace and seat of European Parliament, this penultimate round of the SWRC runs along the French-German border and includes a variety of stages. The crews will face fast roads running through the Vosges Mountains, with twisty sections when the stages dive deep into the Black Forest. Also in the mix will be tricky vineyard tests and the challenge of driving through the urban streets on spectator stages in Strasbourg, Haguenau and Mulhouse.

While this might be the first all-asphalt round of the SWRC series, the crews did contest largely dry sections of asphalt on the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo back in January – where Andersson built a seven-minute lead in PROTON’s debut in the world championship for Super 2000 cars.

The priority for PROTON and Andersson in France this week is to maintain – and further –the SWRC lead ahead of the final round of the season, November’s Catalunya Rally.

Joining Andersson in the team for France will be another FIA World Rally Championship title winner in the shape of Austrian ace Andreas Aigner. Aigner won the 2008 Production Car title and is looking forward to making his debut in the SWRC series with PROTON Motorsports.

The event gets underway with a superspecial, which starts outside the European Parliament building in Strasbourg on Thursday (October 4) and runs through a city first discovered in 12BC.

Quotes:

P-G Andersson said:
“After all the gravel we have driven on this year, it will be interesting to get to the first real asphalt round. We know the car has good pace on this surface and our pre-event test went well. But this is a long, long rally. What we have seen more than anything this season is that all the points are at the finish; trying to win this rally on every corner is not the way to go about it. It’s the first time we have competed on this rally and we have to make sure we have a good recce and then start the event sensibly – we need points and we need good points to try and extend our lead in the SWRC.”

Andreas Aigner said:
“The first thing I felt at the test with the PROTON is that it is a real rally car made for just this job. I drive a Group N car for a lot of years and coming to the Super 2000 car is a real difference – you feel it every time you go on the accelerator and the brake: it’s a great car to drive. I have been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time now. We had a good test, it was good to get experience of the car and to meet the team. These roads will be new for me, I haven’t been on this event before, but I can’t wait to get started.”

MEM team principal Chris Mellors said:
“We want to win this championship, there’s nothing surer than that. We’ve had a very good test and the changes we made to the car in the summer are working very, very well with the car in asphalt specification. This is the first all asphalt event we have done this season and finding the right set-up for the car is all about a compromise. During the test, we went to the most extreme set-up for the car – essentially making it into a racing car – and the speed P-G was able to carry through the corners was extraordinary. While you get the best performance from the car in that set-up, it’s uncompromising and there’s no margin for error – if you hit a bump unexpectedly then you’re likely to be thrown into the scenery. So, the optimum set-up is a compromise; we found the ultimate settings and then came back a little bit from that. We have seen some asphalt stages – in Monte Carlo – earlier this year and the car was very, very competitive there, so we’re looking forward to this week.”