UPDATE: Winner Gaurav Gill has been excluded from the results due to a technical infringement, and the APRC Driver’s title is now a two-horse battle between Proton drivers Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson.

Proton may not have been able to crown a champion at the Rally Hokkaido over the weekend, but three of its cars finishing on the podium in round five of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) was nevertheless a very good outing for the team.

Initial honours went to Indian driver Gaurav Gill, in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, though a technical infringement meant that his exclusion from the final classification results. As such, Toshihiro Arai, in a Subaru WRX STI, has been classified as the overall winner, with Gill’s MRF teammate Katsuhiko Taguchi coming in second. Alister McRae completed the podium by finishing third in his Satria Neo S2000.

Beginning the second leg of the rally 31.4 seconds adrift of Taguchi in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, McRae won two of the morning’s four special stages to close the gap to within 18.5 seconds, but in the end had to contend with third place despite closing the gap to within 8.8 seconds and being the fastest driver on Leg 2 of the rally.

The results in Japan will set the stage for a three-way battle for this year’s APRC crown, with McRae now leading Proton team mate Chris Atkinson, who retired on the first day, followed by Gill, with the title to be decided in the next and final round of the APRC, in Longyou, China in November.

“We had a good run in Japan, considering that the terrain and stages suited the turbocharged four-wheel drive cars better. The results might have been a lot different had it not been for McRae’s puncture and Atkinson’s retirement on the first day, but that’s the nature of rallying,” said Proton Motorsports head Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood.

“Having said that, the Satria Neo S2000 performed well against the more powerful turbocharged cars and the results are testimony to the level of progress we have made in terms of development of the car, which we have demonstrated this season by winning three of the five rallies so far. One more round will determine the APRC championship and rest assured that we will be fighting hard to end the season on a high note,” he added.

Completing the good outing in Japan were the dominant drives demonstrated by Proton’s two Group N 1600 Satria Neos. The team secured two podium finishes with Karamjit Singh and Japanese team mate Akira Bamba finishing first and second respectively in the APRC 1600cc Two Wheel Drive category.

Bamba also secured the inaugural FIA APRC Junior Championship title, with the Cusco-prepared Satria Neo Group N rally car. Meanwhile, Gunaseelan Rajoo clinched the Class “A” title in the APRC 1600cc Two Wheel Drive category in a Class “A” Proton Satria Neo.