We’re reporting to you live from the Monte Carlo Rally, which is the opening leg of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC). Yours truly is shivering in the town of Valence, France at the moment, which will be “base camp” for the next few days. By the way, the Monte Carlo Rally doesn’t start in glamorous Monaco, but ends there – the first 9 stages will be held around Valence, the final 4 around Monaco.

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We’re of course here to cheer on our own Proton R3 Rally Team, which will be up against the big boys from Peugeot, Ford and Skoda, last year’s IRC champion. Big name drivers include Juha Hanninen (last year’s IRC driver’s champ with Skoda), Guy Wilks (Peugeot UK, ex Proton driver) Freddy Loix, Francois Delecour, Toni Gardemeister, Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot Le Mans driver) and Petter Solberg driving a 207. Subaru fans will know their ex-WRC champ.

There will be 120 vehicles contesting the historic Rallye Monte Carlo, which turns 100 years old this year. It’s Proton’s first time contesting the event.

Contest winners with Chris Atkinson and P-G Andersson

Piloting the two Satria Neo S2000 cars (which look really fetching in new 2011 livery) will be Chris Atkinson and Per-Gunnar Andersson. In case you’re wondering, this is a top lineup; Aussie Chris is a former Subaru WRC works driver who finished third here in 2008, while Swede P-G is a double JWRC champ with Suzuki.

The rally starts tomorrow, but we’ve briefly met with the team already in a “shakedown” session where winners of “The Rallye to Monte Carlo” contest Mohd Akram and Nik Mohd Azhar got memorable taxi rides by the drivers.

“We’re not too concerned about being the underdogs, instead, this plays in our favour as we devote our focus and attention to achieving the desired pace, performance and reliability in pursuit of results.

“While it is too early to place any expectations, we believe we have a race-winning car, two world class and very talented drivers and a competitive team to make a big enough impression in IRC,” said Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood, Head of Proton Motorsports.

Team Principal Chris Mellors also declined to put any targets, saying that while the team is definitely gunning for wins and the championship in the APRC, IRC is a tougher challenge and it’s hard to know until racing starts tomorrow. When asked about the contract negotiations with P-G, the Jeremy Clarkson lookalike boss said that it’s going well and we’re likely to see the Swede in yellow for the rest of the IRC season.

We’ll bring you updates from the rally starting tomorrow, where four stages will be held in the mountains around Valence. Stay tuned!