When news of the Proton Iriz R5 first surfaced in 2016, it generated an incredible wave of hype surrounding Proton’s new hatch, particular for those who are fans of the automaker’s exploits in motorsports, or in this case, rallying.

The Iriz R5 (based on the 2016 model) was built and developed by Mellors Elliot Motorsport (MEM), a brand that isn’t in any way a stranger to Proton. In fact, MEM’s relationship with Proton goes back to the late 1990s, and has since built the famed Satria Neo S2000, which helped the team win the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (FIA APRC) in 2001. MEM was also responsible for building the Proton PERT Evo VI for local legend Karamjit Singh, who won the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) in 2002.

But because MEM is headquartered in Bakewell, UK, there isn’t a whole lot of opportunities to discuss developmental work with the racing team, much less talk about its Proton race cars. So when MEM founder and team principle Chris Mellors – who himself was a former rally champion – flew in for business, we seized the chance for a private interview and uncovered several interesting facts regarding the Iriz R5. What you’re about to read came straight from the horse’s mouth, so strap yourselves in.

Unlike the Satria Neo, the Iriz was never officially sold in the UK. According to Chris, when the Iriz first made its debut in 2014, he was contacted by Tun Dr Mahathir (that’s right!) who at the time was still the chairman of Proton. Mahathir was curious to know if the Iriz platform had what it took to be a rally car, so that’s essentially how it all started.

Technically, all cars could be transformed into rally cars, Chris said. But to make a truly competitive car that adheres to the R5 rules, the car’s platform itself has to be top notch. Fundamentally, the rear axle can be modified to fit a four-wheel drive system (all R5 cars like the Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia use the same FIA-approved rear axle), and the torsion beam setup can also be replaced with an independent suspension. However, the geometry and mounting points for the front suspension almost cannot be modified.

If the base car’s front suspension isn’t good enough, it will severely affect the dynamics and balance of the R5 car’s rear suspension. But that’s not the case with the Iriz. Chris said the B-segment hatch was developed with an excellent front suspension which utilises a wishbone lower arm as opposed to a boomerang arm (which is used by many other rivalling models), so it has that advantage from the get-go.

Chris also said the Iriz has the upper hand in terms of its dimensions. Despite being a short car, its wheelbase is nearly as long as the Mk6 Volkswagen Golf. It also has short front and rear overhangs, which when combined with the long wheelbase, gave the Iriz great stability. This is particularly advantageous for a rally car, Chris said.

All of these worked in tandem to give the Iriz R5 go-kart-like handling and unwavering stability when attacking the bends, Chris explained. It also remained stable under aggressive rebounds, factors which surprised two-time WRC champion Marcus Grönholm when he drove the Iriz R5 in 2017. This is why the Iriz R5 excelled in nearly every rally championship series it participated in, and also explains why the road-going Iriz is convincingly adept in the corners.

What’s more, Chris said the Iriz’s front face was designed as though it was deliberately made for motorsports. Based on FIA regulations, the frontal design of an R5 race car can’t be modified too extensively from the production car (for reasons pertaining to air flow), so it served as a bonus that the Iriz had a gaping radiator grille. It also has a tall nose, which allowed MEM to install the largest intercooler system among R5 cars.

Most of these advantages were unknown to many, but based on MEM’s early studies, the engineers went to town with its development in 2016. Chris added that the Iriz had its own charm from a visual point of view, because other R5 cars like the Fiesta, Fabia, or Volkswagen Polo are a dime a dozen in Europe.

So when the Proton Iriz R5 made its official debut, many were puzzled and asked “what car is that, which brand makes it, and where is this brand from?” That inadvertently created some publicity on a continent with which the production model was never officially sold. We’ve got MEM to thank for that!

Fervent followers of the Proton Iriz R5 must be thinking, why did the car get a 4B11T engine that was downsized from a 2.0 litre to a 1.6 litre block? Why not just use Proton’s Campro S4PH 1.6 litre engine? Well, Chris has his reasonings, and it’s quite an eye-opening subject. Read all about it, here.

This piece has been translated from the original story written by our BM counterpart.