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Proton: And the roads just keep getting faster...

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By Olivier Ferret

30 July 2012 - 12:38
Proton: And the roads just keep (...)

After a pace-setting second place on some of the smoothest and fastest roads in the southern hemisphere, the PROTON Motorsports team return top-side of the equator for round five of the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship, next week’s Neste Oils Rally Finland.

And Finland, if you didn’t know, is the fastest of the fast. Not for nothing is this event known locally as the Jyvaskyla Suurajot, Jyvaskyla Grand Prix.

Across the spread of the SWRC season, the crews will not drive their cars faster or fly them further than they will in Finland next week. And the PROTON Motorsports team arrives with one result in mind: a win.

Having set the pace through the early part of the season, the Malaysian manufacturer has been unlucky not to register more than a single success on Rally Sweden. P-G Andersson (Sweden) and Juha Salo (Finland) aim to put that right through the woods of central Finland next week.

PROTON has tested extensively for this event, having worked on a new specification for the Satria-Neo S2000 – which won out of the box on the Malaysian Rally round of the APRC earlier this month. Most recently, Andersson and Salo drove the test car for two days in Estonia and will shake their rally cars down at an official test close to rally HQ in Jyvaskyla tomorrow (Sunday July 29).

Next week will be the first time Finnish fans will have the chance to see the PROTON Satria-Neo S2000 in action. And, for an event which has been dominated by locals (only four times in the WRC history of Rally Finland has this event been won by anybody other than a Nordic driver), PROTON is very happy to have Nordics in its two factory Satria-Neo S2000s.

As has become the norm on this event in recent years, the mainstay of the action will take place through Friday and Saturday. The event starts on Thursday (August 2) afternoon with three stages (one of which, Mynnila is completely new) in the Lahti area providing the perfect loosener for two days of flat-out sport.

And the great names which have become associated with Rally Finland, nee the 1,000 Lakes, are all in place. From shakedown over the rollercoaster road of Ruuhimaki all the way through to the classic Ouninpohja finale, next week’s Rally Finland is going to be one of the highlights of the season.

Prepare for takeoff…

P-G Andersson said: “After driving on such slow and twisty roads [on the last APRC round] in Malaysia, coming here to Finland is completely the opposite – the roads here are so fast. It definitely takes you some time to remember just how hard you can push and how hard you can drive cars through these corners. Like all drivers, I love to fly and this is one of my favourite rallies of the year; it’s a fantastic feeling to take off in the car when you are absolutely flat out in sixth gear. In Malaysia, we saw that the new homologation was working well and it’s clear after the test that it’s already really helping in the high-speed roads as well. I need to win this SWRC round and I feel we have the speed to do that – we saw that on the last SWRC event in New Zealand. And now we are coming back to my home rally a little bit more. Hayden Paddon won at his home, now I am ready to take him on closer to my home. It’s going to be a great event.”

Juha Salo said: “Every time I get out of this car, I’ve got a bit smile on my face! It’s incredible to be here with the PROTON Motorsports team and in the Satria-Neo S2000 – this is definitely the biggest opportunity of my life. I did already a test in Wales, but then another day in Estonia yesterday (Thursday) which was really useful for me; I am lucky that Chris has given me so much time in the car, this has helped me to adapt my driving style. I have driven Group N cars for so long, but this is a completely different style with S2000 car – it’s like a switch. I have turned off Group N in my head and turned on S2000. Of course, I am wanting to win SWRC in Finland, that is the dream result, but I have to remember this is the first really big competition for me in this car and I have to make sure I am at the finish of the rally for PROTON.”

Chris Mellors (MEM team principal) said: “We’re all feeling very happy with the car after the test, we found some great roads which are really representative of Finland. We did a couple of hundred kilometres yesterday and the same again today and we’ve had no issues at all. The car and the crews are all looking in great shape. We’ve got a very strong team here: P-G’s pedigree is obviously very well known – and he’s shown tremendous speed in Finland before and having a Finn in the other car is great, because this is such a specialised event. The changes we made to the car before Malaysia improved the Satria further and we’re confident of taking that another step in Finland next week. The car’s got better traction and balance and it understeers less. All-in-all, we’ve got a very well-behaved car in time for the next round of the SWRC.”

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