For the Proton R3 rally team, this year’s plans centred on the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), which it has committed to for the full season, with only selected Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) rounds in between. Last week (24-26 June), the team had a two-car lineup for their return to the IRC at the Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium driven by Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson. Another Satria Neo S2000 was piloted by 19-year old British rally prodigy Tom Cave.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for the team, with both Satrias retiring at the fourth stage of the asphalt event. The cause was a failed valve spring on the number two inlet valve. It seemed like more than coincidence when Tom Cave’s semi-works Neo S2000 also stopped at the same stage, with the same problem. The team is perplexed to say the least, as they had a trouble-free test in the UK and finished second overall on a small test event prior to the Ypres Rally.

“What a bizarre way to end a rally. I’ve never had my team-mates retire so close to me with the same problem before. Obviously, this is really disappointing for everybody. The engine problem came out of the blue, we hadn’t had anything to indicate it was coming at all,” McRae said.

“As a team, we’re devastated by the retirements. The frustration is that every single person involved in this team is working themselves flat-out 24 hours, 7 days a week; we couldn’t do any more than we’re doing. I guess the positive to take from this is that the three cars went with the same problem. We know where the issue is, so it’s not like one car went with a broken gearbox half-way through, another went with a driveshaft on Saturday and the third had gone with the engine on day one,” said team principal Chris Mellors.

“Ironically, we didn’t put a part on the cars during the pre-event test, the small event we did prior to this one or at shakedown for this rally. This is the sport we’re in sometimes,” he lamented.

Data from all three cars is being analysed and a solution being prepared at the team’s UK base as we speak. The next race for the team is this weekend’s Rally of Whangarei, New Zealand, which is Round 3 of the 2010 APRC.