In the “Death of an Icon” series, we pay tribute to machines that have played a significant part in why we love cars, bikes or motor sports that are no longer with us now. In our first entry to the series, we began with what I think is Proton’s most memorable rally icon to date.
Our national car manufacturer, Proton has been associated with rally racing back in the days when Proton cars were rebadged Mitsubishis. A decade ago the Malaysian rally scene was vibrant with the participation of Proton Saga, Iswara, Wira and more notably the Satria hatchback. Most notably is the achievement from Proton PERT (a rebadged Mitsubishi Evo 6), which has won the World Rally Championship (WRC) production car category by our “Flying Sikh”, Karamjit Singh; putting Proton into world rallying fame. But what I believe a true icon that signified Proton’s icon in rallying was not the Proton PERT, but the yellow nimble machine named Proton Satria Neo S2000.
First introduced in 2009, the machine was not developed by Proton but in fact by the talents of Mellors Eliot Motorsports (MEM) from the UK. MEM was previously responsible for preparing Proton rally cars in WRC and Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC). MEM picked the Satria Neo; knowing the car’s agile capabilities suits well in rallying. MEM began work by complying the car with the specifications based on FIA Super 2000 (S2000) specs. Having said that, the Satria Neo S2000 will be four-wheel driven, 2L normal aspirated engine at 280HP and utilizing a common control gearbox and drivetrain system.
The S2000 was developed to encourage participation from manufacturers with a lower running budget compared to the premier classes. To propel the car on gravel and tarmac surfaces during special stages, the engine was taken from the 1.8L Renault, which was previously used on the dreadful and forgotten Proton Waja 1.8; but was given an additional 200cc to produce a 2L engine capable of churning out 278bhp at 7600rpm. The only similarity between this Satria Neo with the one in the showroom is just the body.
However, instead of roping our local rally hero, Karamjit Singh, foreign talents were recruited to pilot and co-pilot the car. Debuted in the middle of 2009 in the Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC), the Satria Neo S2000 has shown promising potential where they scored their best finish in Rally of Scotland in second place by Alister McRae, brother of rally legend the late Colin McRae. However, 2010 turned out to be difficult year when the Satria Neo S2000s failed to score points as reliability issues robbed much of its chances.
While the team endured a tough 2011 in the IRC, it was the turning point in the APRC with both cars driven by Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae secured podium finishes and 4 wins in total; with the latter emerging as APRC driver’s champion and the Proton R3 team securing the manufacturer’s title. To mark this achievement, Proton also incorporated “2011 APRC champion” door blast wordings on the passenger window side of their new cars the following year.
Meanwhile in 2012, it turned out to be another good year for the yellow Satria Neo S2000 when the team scored 2 rally wins and 3 podium finishes in the S2000 class in the WRC. Proton roped in two-time Junior WRC champion, PG Anderson to drive the yellow Proton and he finished the overall driver’s standing in second in the SWRC category. In the APRC, tough competition from the Skoda Fabia S2000 meant both team and driver managed a second spot overall.
However, if you have been wondering why we didn’t see or hear any news of the Satria Neo S2000 in action this year, we’re sad to mention that under Proton’s new owners of DRB-HICOM, Proton has allocated funds to participate in only local motor sports events. That effectively means Proton has pulled the plug on the Satria Neo S2000. Till this date and time there has been no further news on the Satria Neo S2000 as and it seems the drivers and team behind the yellow machine have moved on.
The only yellow rally machines seen from Proton R3 now is the Satria Neo 1.6L which is driven by Karamjit Singh and Kenneth Koh. Fortunately enough they did pretty well in the local rounds where occassionally the 2WD Satria Neo 1.6L outperformed the much powerful 4WD rally machines. However, tales from some Proton staffers who tagged along with the Proton R3/MEM team in Europe, who was caught astonished witnessed some of the villagers and spectators bearing yellow flags with Proton’s tiger symbol.
The foreign rally fans seemed mesmerized with the little yellow nimble machine attacking some of the toughest tarmac or asphalt surfaces in Europe despite the Proton brand being not very well-known there. If fans first heard “Subaru” from the blue “555” car driven flat-out by Colin McRae on rally racing, there is no doubt many people from all parts of the world would know our country’s manufacturer, Proton from this nimble yellow machine.
[Image Source: Official Proton Satria Neo S2000 Facebook page]