Proton's Golden Days in Motorsport - Petronas EON Racing Team #BlogPost
Proton Cars was established in the 7th of May 1983 by then-Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who first conceived the idea of a national car back in 1979. The main goal then was to further enhance the Malaysian industry - other than the obvious reason of being able to produce their own car.
Actually, Proton didn’t really start producing their own cars until the Waja (or Impian in the U.K.) came along in 2000. Until then, they rebadged Mitsubishi cars and - at least - a Citroen. More on that next time.
Today, in this article, I would like to introduce to you a forgotten racing team that once dominated many championships back in the 1980’s, 1990’s and the early 2000’s: Petronas EON Racing Team.
Proton was doing rather well for itself in the 80’s and the 90’s. Their cars are reliable, economical, tough and reasonably well equipped for a reasonable price. However, as every petrolhead knows, there’s no better way of boosting public recognition other than to compete in the great world of motorsports, which is what Proton did when they collaborated with Petronas, Mitsubishi Motors and Edaran Otomobil Nasional (EON) to form the Petronas EON Racing Team (PERT) back in the 1980’s - specialising in the gruesome world of rallying, although they did race on circuits. This led to a series of amazing machinery that had Malaysian petrolheads going crazy. But, there’s this ONE rally machine that really captured my heart.
Competing for Group S from 1991 to 1994, the Proton Iswara 4WD Turbo had a fairly successful career, besting even the Mitsubishi Evo 3! However, it was short-lived as it was later banned by the FIA after some protests were made against it.
This machine was powered a 2.0 DOHC 16-valve Turbocharged Intercooler engine with a MoTEC Engine Management System, producing 337 BHP at 6,800 RPM according to PERT, which is strange considering that the FIA regulations restrict the horsepower to 300 (probably why protests were thrown at it), powering all four wheels via a six-speed sequential gearbox with centre viscous coupling and front and rear limited-slip differential. Obviously, there’s a whole host of equipment on board such as a Rallymaster Trip Computer, Integral multi-point roll cage and so on, but they’re pretty much the standard equipment for all Group S rally cars anyway, so not really worth mentioning.
Anyway, about PERT itself. Having established itself in 1987, the team had a good start when they won the 1989 Shell Malaysia Rally with Proton Saga rally cars, specially-prepared by Mitsubishi’s Ralliart division, featuring 150 BHP engine as part of the rally specification. The cars were driven by Henry Yap - considered to be the best handler of FWD cars in Malaysia - with Ron Teoh as his navigator and Australian Tolley Challis with Zuber Ismail as his navigator respectively.
From then, team PERT went on to dominate many international rallies including the 1991 Rally Of Thailand, 1993 Dubai International Rally and Rallye Ng Philipinas in 1995, 1996 and 1997 respectively, with Karamjit Singh - also known as the Flying Sikh - behind the wheel.
In 2002, team PERT took part - and won - the Production World Rally Championship with Karamjit Singh driving a Proton PERT: which was a rebadged Mitsubishi Evo VI. The team went on to win the 2001, 2002 and 2004 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship titles, again with Karamjit Singh behind the wheel.
In 2003, Proton Motorsports Division - commonly known as R3 (Race, Rally, Research) - was established. R3 immediately assumed responsibilities of Proton’s motorsports endeavours, which had been held by Ralliart of Mitsubishi Motors. This effectively put an end to PERT’s days, and Proton’s presence from the international Motorsports scene - although they did return to international scene for a while starting from FIA APRC in 2009 with the Satria Neo S2000, driven by Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae - brother of the late Colin McRae, before disappearing again in 2011.
Although Petronas EON Racing Team’s glory days are now far behind, there is no getting away from the fact that it had played a major role in providing Proton the invaluable experience in Motorsports competition. With the experience gained from the collaborators Petronas and Ralliart during the days of PERT, here’s hoping that Proton R3 will be able to compete in motorsports event and dominate with an iron fist, just like how PERT did back then.