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Carbon copy: Proton Satria Neo S2000
In this feature from 2012, with an Asia-Pacific title-winning season behind it, Proton’s Satria Neo S2000 rally car was reaching for greater heights on the world stage
by Matt Joy
From April 2012: Kicking off the 2012 season in fine style, Proton’s Satria Neo S2000 rally car took a maiden SWRC win on Rally Sweden. Finishing more than three minutes ahead of the second-placed Ford, the Satria led from start to finish. It had previously shown promising speed at the season opener in Monte Carlo, too – testament to the development work undertaken over the winter by preparation specialist Mellors Elliott Motorsport (MEM).
Chris Mellors, owner of MEM, tells PMW that the 2012 development program centered around changes that enabled the drivers to extract the maximum from the car, rather than a focus on outright performance. Repeated running over a set stage had revealed gains that were down to ‘testing-itus’ rather than improvements in the car, as Chris explains: “One of the most significant changes is the engine – not so much the power, but the dynamics of the car. We spent quite a lot of time on the dyno because the drivers are always asking for more power. The [stage] test would then go very well, but we couldn’t actually replicate those results on events. After studying the data for quite a long time it became apparent that the drivers were effectively learning how to drive the car on that particular test stage. If you looked at the duty cycle of the engine, it was always around 7-8,000rpm. When you went to the rally with limited pace notes, the data coming off the car showed numbers down as low as 4,000rpm out of corners.”
With useful improvements in torque lower down the rev range without sacrificing too much top-end power, Chris and the MEM team found that the drivers were in the right gear more of the time. A useful knock-on effect was that the differentials were working better and it allowed more loading of the suspension. This idea of ‘driver-focused’ changes then set the tone for the rest of the development program – Mellors says the car is now easier to drive, and the drivers have responded to that.
“You can spend hours and hours on rigs, but there’s nothing like getting out there in real time,” he adds. “The thing that testing gives you more than anything is how the driver feels about the car, not necessarily the overall performance of it. You could design a car that would be enormously fast around a particular corner, but when you transfer that to the real world and it’s snowing, it just doesn’t happen. It’s finding that balance between what you know you can do mechanically, and what you need to do to get the driver’s psychological speed through that corner.”
Weight has been another key area of attention during the winter, as in 2011 MEM was faced with a relatively limited development program to get the car ready for competition. For 2012, an overall weight-saving of around 18kg has been made, but perhaps more importantly, a lot of the weight has also been moved lower down in the car.
“This year, Proton has given us a bit more help and we’ve been able to reduce the weight and also get the center of gravity down by using some lighter components higher up in the car, and moving things around,” says Mellors. “At the same time as getting rid of some weight, we’ve actually made the car more functional, easier to service, and better for the driver. The ultimate speed of the car is not necessarily how fast it will go round a corner, but how fast the drivers believe it will go round the corner.
“The suspension has been a major area of development following on from last year. We’ve changed the damping settings and done quite a lot of work on differential settings and brakes to maximize the extra torque from the engine.”
MEM changed to Reiger dampers at the start of 2011, which resulted in dramatic and instant improvements in the car’s gravel performance, as well as more modest benefits in its performance on asphalt. The previous dampers had issues with stiction in the bodies, which meant difficulties in terms of tuning the chassis, as Mellors explains: “Over big, fast wheel movements it wasn’t a problem, but with small wheel movements you did get the body of the damper doing most of the damping, not the actual hydraulic part. The thing about the Reiger dampers is that you have very little friction within the tubes, so you can concentrate on getting the damper to its job. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with the valving and the settings of the dampers and made the car much faster. They are a bespoke unit for us; we spent a long time with the engineers and we had a car over in Holland at their premises so that we could maximize the amount of stroke we could get out of it.”
Aside from the individual setup changes for each rally, the car now has increased camber and improved traction, while the rear wishbones have been strengthened to cope with high-camber stages. A testament to the performance of the 2011 car, however, is the fact that elements such as the brakes and steering have remained almost completely unchanged for 2012.
This article was uploaded in April 2012