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It has been a freezing day for yours truly in Valence, France, but I’m not the only miserable one, as disappointment hangs in the air at the Proton camp. After all the hard work and anticipation, the team’s challenge at the Rallye Monte Carlo 2011 ends on the first day of the event.

To be exact, it lasted two stages long. We woke up before the sun rose to reach Col de la Fayolle, a viewing point on SS1. After securing a photography spot, it was torture waiting for the first car to past, thanks to 0 degrees temperature coupled with strong winds – a shivering body makes sharp pics harder to get!


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The huge crowd at the hairpin cheered as the first Skodas and Peugeots zoomed past, followed by the Satria Neo S2000 of P-G Andersson. The best looking car of the event got our yellow contingent excited, but worry creeped in when the sister car of Chris Atkinson was nowhere to be seen.

Turns out that the Atkinson’s run lasted only 700 metres into SS1. An electrical problem caused the ECU to stop working. “It was only five or six corners into the rally, I’ve never retired so early before in my career,” said the dejected Aussie when we met him at the service park. He added that the car ran without any issue in two days of testing prior to the event, and the actual cause of the failure is still unknown at this point.


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SS1 was from Le Moulinon to Antraigues, and after 36.9 km, Stephane Sarrazin of Peugeot was leading, followed by IRC defending champ Juha Hanninen of Skoda. It was very tight between the two (only 0.3 seconds separate), but they pulled out a gap from the rest – Guy Wilks and Bryan Bouffier (both driving Peugeots) were 20 seconds behind.

Proton’s now sole driver P-G Andersson finished SS1 in 12th, the best placed non Skoda/Peugeot, one minute behind the leaders.


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We then hopped on our vans heading to St Bonnet le Froid, which was a long mountain road drive away. Happy to beat the jam and reach in time, moods were deflated by news that P-G will not start SS3 after crashing in SS2. Apparently, he knocked his front left side on a rock (or kerb) and the lower arm mounting broke, despite it not looking too serious in the pic below. The Neo couldn’t even limp home and was out of the race.


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So it’s confirmed that Proton is out of this IRC season opener. Other series’ may have a rule that allows cars to compete on the following day if repairs can be done in time, but not IRC. Out for the day means out of the rally. It’s the worst possible start to the season for Proton, but as a team member says: “That’s rallying, anything can happen”. Being here with the team, I share the disappointment.


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Four stages happened today, and Skoda is leading after Day 1 with Hanninen clocking 1:11:33.4. On his Fabia’s tail is another Fabia driven by Freddy Loix 44.5 seconds behind. Behind the Skodas are Petter Solberg, Sarrazin and Guy Wilks, all driving Peugeots. The best placed non Skoda/Peugeot is Julien Maurin’s Fiesta S2000 in 10th.

A big live image gallery awaits you after the jump.

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