Alister McRae talks about his return to the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship with PROTON Motorsports, ahead of this week's series opener, the Malaysian Rally.
Q. You've started a few championships now, do you have the same enthusiasm as before?
Alister McRae: Are you trying to say I'm getting old?
Q. Did I say a few championships? I meant a couple...
AM: Aye, I have started a couple! But the feeling is honestly the same as it was 20 years ago. I absolutely love to drive rally cars, that's never changed and my fitness and ability is the same as ever. It's always a really exciting time when you're at the start of a new year. And we're 100 percent focused as ever on the target for this year.
Q. What is the target for this year?
AM: To be fighting for the Asia-Pacific title.
Q. Can you win it?
AM: I would be disappointed if myself or Chris [Atkinson, PROTON Motorsports] didn't win the title and definitely we want to be right up there.
Q. How hard is Asia-Pacific?
AM: It is hard work, probably harder at times than the World Rally Championship from an event point of view. Look at this week: the Malaysian Rally, that's one of the toughest events I've ever done in my life.
AM: From the heat perspective. I'm out in Malaysia right now and it's not bad, the temperature's low 90s, but that's going to go up in time for the rally at the weekend and anyway, it's the humidity, which causes as much of a problem, it feels like there's just no air to breathe. And then you get in a rally car and drive some really twisty stages for an hour or so – it's hard work. Inside the car, it's tough as well; because these are quite slow and technical stages, you don't get much airflow around in the car.
Q. What can you do for preparation?
AM: My co-driver Bill [Hayes] and I have been working with Perth [Western Australia] Institute of Sport for the last week before we came away. We've been working in the heat chamber to try and replicate the kind of conditions we're going to have out here. We've been on the exercise bike and doing some free weights and things. I did that every day from Monday to Friday before we left and I definitely felt a lot fresher the Friday than I did on the Monday. And when you get to the event, it's all about keeping hydrated. My level of fitness is as good as it's ever been, but this week will really test that.
Q. And what about the car?
AM: The Proton is really good. Last year, we talked about two areas in the car that we wanted to look at, the engine and the dampers and both of those have been addressed and now we have a very, very competitive rally car. The dampers are Reiger – the same firm which supplies M-Sport for the Ford World Rally Cars – so we knew they would be good and they really are. The engine's great as well, we've done an early test and in places where we would be needing to drop it into first for the tight stuff, we're leaving it in second and letting the torque pull the car through. The torque lower down is really the big improvement from the engine, it starts low and runs all the way through without any holes.
Q. Can you win Malaysia?
AM: We were leading there last year, so it's possible. Like I said, it's a physically tough event, but we've got the speed, the car and the team to do it.
Q. Are you hoping a good performance in APRC will bag you more IRC outings this year?
AM: We're doing Scotland already and, for sure, I would love to be out more often – I just want to drive the car as much as I can. I guess it depends on what Chris [Atkinson] and I are doing out here in Asia-Pacific, obviously there are the guys [P-G Andersson and Giandomencio Basso] competing in Europe and we're looking for the title here. But, yes, if we could get a couple more outings in the IRC as well as Scotland I'd be really pleased. Having said that, we're here in Malaysia for Proton's home event and this is arguably the biggest event of the year for the team. We're pretty focused on that.