Longyou, China – The recently concluded Rally of China brings with it hope for the future for the Proton R3 Team and its’ Satria Neo Super 2000, piloted by Scotsman Alister McRae and co-driver Bill Hayes. They achieved this year what they had targeted only for next year.
The team arrived in Longyou to be greeted by pitch darkness during the day. The weather had been gloomy with rain forecasted. Temperature was hovering in the low average of 14 degrees Celsius and expected to go much lower.
An impressive 82 cars, out of which 51 competed in the APRC category, were all parked at the service area, almost in a one kilometre stretch. The service tents are connected to teams’ own support and hospitality trucks not unlike those seen at Formula 1 events. The whole town of Longyou was engulfed in a carnival-like atmosphere with everyone literally aware of the event.
During the reconnaissance, the narrow and hilly terrains were made slippery due to rain that fell earlier. In the rally’s Shakedown, a steady drizzle accompanied it throughout the 2.1kms event. Cars were flagged off two at a time and conditions remained treacherous.
To the credit of McRae and Hayes, the Neo S2000 performed to say the least, marvelously, and as McRae puts it, “The Neo’s ride is perfectly set and there’s obviously big improvements in the handling”.
Friday the 13th. An unlucky day by all reckoning, but it was not one for the team. In the Super Special Stage, McRae and Hayes finished a credible 6th and only 2.1 seconds off the leader’s pace. All top 5 cars were turbo-charged cars as were others up to 14th place.
The following day, in the hilly country-side terrains, the real action began. There, the talents of McRae showed. Driving cautiously and cleanly, but fast, he attacked each stage with unseemly ease and improving on times clocked on all repeated stages. All that was rewarded in the end when McRae and Hayes came in at an incredible 4th place for the day where nine stages were contested. As was before, the Neo S2000 was sandwiched by more powerful turbo-charged cars. By then, more than half of all competing cars have had retirements.
Spurred by the previous day’s showing, McRae was by then gunning for better times where another nine stages were contested. During the initial stages, McRae was going great guns and improving in both times and placing. He was slowly but surely catching up with the leaders. Just when the going was great, something just had to happen.
During stage 13 (guess the unlucky number caught up too), something on the car gave way. The car lost its’ drivability and after some help, McRae managed to slowly nursed the Neo S2000 in limp-home mode to the service tent, only to be greeted by a very worried looking team. That soon turned into disappointment and heartbreak for them and fans alike. The culprit was a front right-side lower suspension-arm that had somehow rather came loose, and with that ended a fairy tale run.
Now one has to remember that this is only the third APRC event that the Neo S2000 had participated in this year and credit should not be taken away from it. The others being the Malaysian and Indonesian rallies. Much had been learned from this three rallies, and all shortcomings would hopefully be sorted out and eliminated. Considering that the Neo S2000 is still in its’ development stage, the rallies participated in so far had shown all what it is really capable of when developed further with more rallies under its’ belt. The Neo S2000 had shown its’ pedigree so far, and with the multi-talented McRae behind the wheel, they would prove to be a formidable combination to be reckoned with and hopefully be challenging for honours next year in the APRC, come rain or shine!