Proton has won the 2011 Malaysian Rally, which ended earlier today in Johor – Chris Atkinson took the win for Proton Motorsports ahead of Team MRF’s Gaurav Gill, with team mate Alister McRae finishing third overall. The result gives the team’s 2011 Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) campaign a massive early boost.

Making the most of an entirely new suspension set-up and significant engine enhancements, Atkinson steered the signature yellow Proton Satria Neo S2000 to victory to finish 1 minute 36.6 seconds ahead of Gill in a Lancer Evolution X.

It was Atkinson’s first victory with Proton (and only his second podium finish) since joining the team last year. For co-driver Stephane Prevot, the result was also significant – the Belgian marked his 300th rally with the victory.

Restarting the third and final day of the rally in Kota Tinggi, with a lead of 2 minutes 10 seconds, Atkinson was quickly forced to concede 30 seconds to an attacking Gill when he had to nurse a right rear puncture sustained midway into the opening 12.42 km SS at Tai Tak – Court House.

With the punctured tyre replaced, and unable to afford another puncture, Atkinson then paced the Satria Neo S2000 through the two remaining 11.97 km and 14.26 km special stages to head back for the scheduled service interval. With four SS remaining, Atkinson needed only to steer clear of trouble and maintain his comfortable lead to the finish line.

“This is a fantastic result for Proton. The Satria Neo S2000 performed extremely well throughout the rally, and it’s especially satisfying to have been able to demonstrate the car’s true potential, competitiveness and its level of pace and performance in front of the home crowd,” Atkinson enthused.

McRae’s third place was a notable achievement, considering that he was forced off the pace midway yesterday due to an overheating problem, which was later resolved. The problem, caused by debris and vegetation blocking the air path to the radiator through the front bumper grille, cost him more than four minutes on Day 2. Nonetheless, the podium finish places him second behind Gill in the Asia Cup category.

As for the Proton Cusco Rally Team, the two debutant Group N 1600cc Satria Neos driven by Akira Bamba and Kosuke Takashino finished 8th and 9th overall respectively, and both drivers also clinched first and second place in the APRC Junior Cup category.

Many thanks to Gary Lee of Proton Motorsports for his snazzy snapshots.