Proton, which was confirmed as the seventh manufacturer to join the Intercontinental Rally Challenge yesterday (Thursday March 12), is likely to make its IRC debut "as soon as possible."
The Malaysian manufacturer has already entered its Satria Neo Super 2000 car on selected international rallies and has also completed initial testing on gravel, the surface used for the next two rounds of the IRC, the Safari Rally in Kenya and the visit to the Azores.
A spokesperson for the team said: "No decisions have been taken but we’d like to get started as soon as possible after the Safari Rally."
Proton joined Abarth, Honda, Mitsubishi, Peugeot Skoda and Volkswagen when it registered for the IRC. It has previously demonstrated the extent of its sporting pedigree when it won the Production Car World Rally Championship in 2002.
The company’s decision to contest the IRC was welcomed by Marcello Lotti, the IRC’s General Manager. He said: "We’re absolutely delighted to welcome Proton into the IRC family, which goes from strength to strength. The new Satria Neo S2000 has already attracted a lot of praise in its short career to date. I have no doubt that Proton will quickly find success on IRC events."
Freddy Loix moved to the top of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with a fourth-place finish on Rally de Curitiba last week. Although the Belgian driver was one of the pre-event favourites to claim victory in Brazil, he was satisfied that his cautious approach had given him a three-point lead in the title battle.
Driving a Peugeot 207 for Peugeot Team Belux, Loix had the dubious honour of running first on the road on Friday’s stages, which proved a handicap because it meant he was effectively sweeping away the loose surface gravel for the cars behind.
"It was my objective to claim the series lead in Brazil so I was not pushing at my hardest, said Loix, who finished second on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in January. "In fact, when I did try to push the car was sliding so much that I decided to bide my time because it was useless to do anything else. I’m happy to leave Brazil as the championship leader."
Loix, who heads team-mate and defending champion Nicolas Vouilloz by five points, hasn’t nominated the next round of the series, the Safari Rally in Kenya, as one of his scoring events so will return to action on Sata Rally Azores in May.
Rally de Curitiba winner Kris Meeke is determined his victory in Brazil won’t be a one-off and has revealed that he is already targeting a repeat performance when he resumes his Intercontinental Rally Challenge campaign on the Sata Rally Acores in May.
The Briton drove his Peugeot UK 207 Super 2000 to his first IRC win in South America but insists he can’t afford to relax.
"I’m going to have to work as hard, if not harder, to make sure we can do it again," said Meeke, who was co-driven to victory in Brazil by Irishman Paul Nagle. "Skoda will be back for the Azores and that will just add another dimension to it all and make it more difficult."
Meeke continued: "The Azores is going to be a new event for a lot of the drivers and, like Brazil, that will mean a level playing field. I showed in Brazil what I could do so I have to believe in my ability to make good pace notes from scratch again."
"As much as I believe in my own abilities on asphalt I can’t compete with the knowledge of some of the other guys have. I know Freddy Loix will be very strong in Ypres, Jan Kopecky is going to be difficult to live with on the Czech round and Giandomenico Basso will be hard to beat in Sanremo. Therefore I have to capitalise on the new events starting with the Azores."
Anton Alen insists he can still be a contender for this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge title despite failing to score on the opening two rounds of the series.
Alen’s frustrating start to the season continued in Brazil last week when he rolled on Rally de Curitiba, having earlier been delayed for seven minutes after damaging his Abarth Grande Punto’s suspension in a separate incident.
The crash marked the Finn’s second retirement in as many events after clutch failure meant he did not go the distance on the Monte Carlo Rally in January.
But Alen, the son of rallying legend Markku is convinced he can fight back. He said: "Before the problems in Brazil I had a good feeling with the car and things were going well. Yes it’s disappointing that we didn’t finish but I am happy with the speed that I had."
Alen’s next event is the Azores Rally on May 7-9. "I will have a good road position for that event, similar to Juho Hanninen in the factory Skoda who I am sure will be very strong on gravel," Alen said. "That will help and also the fact my co-driver Timo Alanne has competed on the event before."
Skoda will prepare for its next appearance in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge by entering a two-car team on the Valasska Rally in the Czech Republic on March 27.
Factory drivers Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky will take part on the Czech championship event in a brace of Fabia Super 2000s, a little more than a month before they are due to contest the IRC-counting Sata Rally Azores on May 7-9.
Michal Hrabanek, the boss of Skoda Motorsport, commented: "We appreciate having another opportunity to test the vehicle in a real competition after the Monte Carlo Rally. Like on the previous occasion, we want to move a few steps forward with our vehicle development efforts, and although the main purpose of our appearance at the Valasska Rally is to test the new vehicle, our ambitions also include achieving the best possible result."
He added: "We also see the event as an excellent opportunity to present ourselves to Czech rally fans and thank them for their long-standing support, including on the latest occasion in Monte Carlo. From the drivers‘ perspective, the race is the best possible way of preparing for future IRC events."
Skoda is likely to enter five more rounds of the IRC this season, including Rally Russia in July and Barum Rally Zlin in Czech Republic in August.

The Proton Satria S2000 has become the latest contender to join the Intercontinental Rally Challenge

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