The Proton R3 Malaysia Rally Team is back in town for the first leg of the 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), which will be held in Johor this coming weekend (24-25 April). Drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson gave us short taxi rides around Sepang International Circuit’s grounds, which was fun, but not as thrilling as this writer’s first rally car experience, which you can read here.

Atkinson, 30, may be new to the Proton team, but he’s no rally rookie. The Australian competed in the APRC before joining the Subaru works team in the WRC. With him onboard to partner Alister McRae, Proton is aiming for nothing less than the APRC crown with the “best drivers and the best team”, a task made easier by the withdrawal of Motor Image Racing Team and its star driver Cody Crocker, after winning the Manufacturers’ and Driver’s title again last year. Both Proton R3 drivers will have to battle with one Karamjit Singh this weekend, though.

What about the Intercontinental Rally Championship? Proton R3’s main focus this year is the APRC, which it has commited to for the whole season. In between APRC races, the team will compete in selected IRC events such as the Sardinia Rally (Italy), Ypres Rally (Belgium) and the Czech Rally. The focus on APRC is understandable, as it gives good visibility for the Proton brand in more important export markets, but Chris Mellors, boss of Mellors Elliot Motorsport (MEM) the company who designed the Neo S2000, said that “IRC gives a good yardstick on how we’re performing” referring to the level of competition there. Mellors also said that the Super 2000 platform is the way forward, and hinted at a possible WRC entry in the future.

Since the last time we sat in it, the Satria Neo S2000 has gone through some improvements. The 278 bhp normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine now sports bigger valves, different camshafts and a stronger sump. Also slightly changed are the gear ratios for the Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox, damper and steering settings and suspension points.

A huge gallery of the media event is after the jump.

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