Proton is looking to continue its good fortune in the second round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), the International Rally of Queensland, which begins today.

After winning the season opener, the Malaysian Rally, last month, Proton is currently leading the Manufacturers Championship with 35 points and the newly-incorporated APRC teams trophy with 54 points. Drivers Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae are also first and third in the drivers standings, with 33 points and 21 points respectively.

In last year’s Australian outing, both drivers were blazingly quick in the Satria Neo S2000, winning all but two of the stages – Atkinson clocked five fastest times from nine special stages on the opening day and a further six quickest times from eight special stages on the second day. It didn’t end with victory, however – Atkinson’s car stalled in a water crossing, while McRae was forced into retirement after hitting a large rock on the final day.

So the boys are back, looking to bag the glitter this time around. “There’s a real feeling in the team that we’re coming back to finish what we started in Queensland last year. We were really quick last time out, but we didn’t get the result. We want to change that this time,” said Atkinson.

“Competing in front of the home crowd does bring an extra element of pressure and expectation, but nobody expects more from me than I do myself. The roads over here are really good, and it rewards big commitment from the driver, which is what you want. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big battle, particularly with Alister. Alister was fast here last year, as he was in Malaysia earlier this year, so he’s certainly going to be one for us to watch,” he added.

Meanwhile, McRae said the Satria Neo S2000 appeared to be well suited for the conditions in Australia, especially with more improvements made in terms of power delivery.

“The car felt very, very impressive in Malaysia after the work the team had done to it over the winter and we’ll be looking to getting even more performance out of it in here. Chris won in Malaysia and I would like to win here, but it’s not going to be easy to beat him with all the local support,” said the Scottish driver, who now resides in Australia.

Elsewhere, Proton will also be looking to continue its lead in the two-wheel drive manufacturer standings for the APRC Rally Cup, as well as the APRC Junior Championship, after an outstanding debut by the Japanese-based Proton Cusco Rally Team whose drivers took the team’s Group N Satria Neos to a one-two victory in Malaysia.

In Australia, the PCRT will be fielding Japanese driver Akira Bamba – who won the class in Malaysia – and veteran and multiple APRC champion Karamjit Singh, who is making his return to the championship.

Meanwhile, as a run-up to the rally, the Satria Neo S2000 was earlier pitted against a Eurocopter BK117 in a promotional “Rally Car versus Helicopter Race,” an event which had Proton winning it last year.

This year, however, the race against a helicopter with twice the number of engines and five-times the power output saw the Satria Neo S2000 narrowly beaten by three to two runs down the runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport in Marcoola.

The rally has received a record entry of 96 cars, including 16 overseas participants, representing 10 countries. Run over three days, the rally will cover 19 special stages with a competitive distance of 230.79 km driven over gravel.