Over the weekend at the Malaysia Championship Series 2019, Proton R3 celebrated one of its most successful outing at the Sepang International Circuit (SIC). The team made a clean podium sweep in Race 2 of the Malaysian Touring Car (MTC) category – Fariqe Hairuman and Syafiq Ali finished first in their Proton Iriz, Mitchell Cheah in second with the Proton Suprima S, and James Veerapen in third with the Proton Saga.

Mitchell also bagged first place in Race 1 of the same category. The prodigal 21-year-old, who is a fresh member of the Proton R3 team, also races with Volkswagen Team Oettinger in the ADAC TCR Germany Touring Car Championship.

Prior to the race, we were given an exclusive tour of the pit, a taxi ride in the Suprima S R3, plus the opportunity to meet the drivers and their weapons of choice. The trio comprise of the Saga R3, Iriz R3 and Suprima S R3, all of which share the same S4PH 1.6 litre naturally-aspirated engine.

Before that, it’s worth noting that MTC regulations stipulate that participating race cars must be built based on production cars with no less than four seats, runs on the factory engine (but can be modified), and with a naturally-aspirated engine with capacity between 1,401 cc to 1,600 cc.

However, the R3 race cars have been completely stripped to bring weight down to just under 1,100 kg. Visible mods include a custom-made exhaust system and air intake, and the beefed up 1.6 litre engine has been upgraded to produce roughly 200 horsepower. That’s nearly twice the output of the standard CamPro engine, mind you.

The engine, Proton R3 says, is designed to withstand the stresses (it revs up to 8,000 rpm!) involved in endurance racing such as the Sepang 1,000 km Endurance Race. A five-speed manual transmission, limited slip differential, and race-bred Motec M800 engine control unit (ECU) are fitted as well.

Other upgrades include a six-point roll cage, Recaro TS-G bucket seats with five-point Beltnick harness, Momo steering wheel, Willwood pedal box, 60-litre ATL fuel tank, as well as a Dry-Break quick refuel system. Speaking of which, the R3 cars run on standard RON 97 fuel instead of racing fuel.

For suspension, the standard factory configuration is retained – all three cars use McPherson struts up front. For the rear, the Iriz and Saga utilise the regular torsion beam setup, while the Suprima S gets the multi-link setup. Of course, this is as per MTC regulations, although the shocks are upgraded to high-performance Ohlins TTX units.

Interestingly, the Iriz and Saga R3 both have negative cambers, and this is achieved by using shims installed between the suspension and wheel hub. In terms of braking, the front uses Alcon 294 mm ventilated rotors with four-piston calipers, while the rear gets 295 mm discs with two-piston calipers. These reside within original Proton R3 15-inch wheels, shod with 195/50 Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 tyres.

We know what you must be thinking – wouldn’t it be great if Proton introduced some version of a souped-up R3 model again? Well, according to Proton R3 team principal Gary Lee, his division works very closely with Proton’s R&D department, and any special edition, performance-oriented model is possible if the management sees fit.

In fact, Geely admits that Proton is one of the most experienced motorsports outfits in the Group, and that is no small compliment. Currently, it’s unclear what Geely plans to do with Proton R3, but the China-based automaker is keeping close tabs on its progress. For now, possibilities are limited as Proton remains focused on recovery.

The takeaway is this. We now know that the Proton Race Rally Research division is alive, well and kicking. With Geely keenly observing, Proton R3’s future certainly seems promising, don’t you think?