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BTCC Proud Proton: Keep Rollin’ On The Tarmac

Image Credit: PSP Images

Image Credit: PSP Images

The latest news to come swirling from the dazzling world of the BTCC sees the Welch Motorsport team continuing to use their own engines over the standard TOCA unit. Proton has always been the car of choice for the team, which slots them perfectly into the brief yet determined history of Proton in the British championship. Since their debut into the series in 2002, Proton may not have enjoyed a glittering career, but through their recent resurrection at the hands of the Welch Motorsport Crew the Malaysian manufacturer lives on.

Chances are, when you think back to the big names of the BTCC from the past and present you will hear names such as Honda, MG, Ford, Nissan, Volvo or Toyota to name but a few. For those more extreme fans, they would also mention Peugeot, Alfa or possibly Mazda. However, one name that has often been left out is that of Proton. The Malaysian manufacturer missed out on the glitz and glamour of the Super Touring, first entering the championship in 2002 as part of the revamped BTC Regulations.

It is fair to say that from their inception, lady luck never really sided with Proton. To maximise performance, most teams would take only the body shell of a car and quite literally build their race car from the ground up. For the Proton team this was but a wistful dream just too far to achieve. Due to the difficulties of importing the body shells from Malaysia, the team had to buy road cars from the local dealership and then work to transform them into the BTC spec Proton Impian.

Proton however was not completely void of hope. One arrow in their quiver came in the shape of the Mountune Racing engines, whose strength, performance and abilities were credited throughout testing. Furthermore, they were able to bring on board returning driver Phil Bennett who had previously raced for the Egg Sport Vauxhall team as well as Scottish legend David Leslie. Leslie was a man famous for taking relatively new teams and bringing out the best in their cars, something he had done for the Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall in 1992, Honda in 1995 and most notably Nissan in 1997 onwards.

The Proton team of the early 2000s never really hit the big time

The Proton team of the early 2000s never really hit the big time

The 2002 season was arguably quite successful for the Proton team, with Leslie achieving multiple podium finishes and finishing 7th overall in the championship. Phil Bennett on the other hand failed to repeat his successes of 2001 and ended the year well down the order. A full overhaul for 2003 predicted strong results, yet the reality could not have been further from the hopes. The highest position achieved across 2003 was a single 5th at Mondello Park for David Leslie. Phil Bennett once again failed to impress, probably due in the most part to his inherent lack of ability to hack it in the BTCC field.

The final year of Proton as a manufacturer in the BTCC can be described as nothing short of an embarrassment. Leslie and Bennett were replaced by South African Shaun Watson-Smith and Malaysian driver Fariqe Hairuman. Whether it was a stunning absence of talent, an underpowered car or just a team that is not suited to racing, the two drivers finished 14th and 23rd in the standings. To put this into perspective, 2004 was Proton’s 3rd year in the championship yet they still finished stone dead last in the manufacturers championship, a whopping 325 points behind the Seat team (who by the way, were competing in their first ever season in the BTCC). It came as no surprise that Proton pulled out after 2004, probably due to the abject misery that surrounded them throughout the year.

For 7 years, Proton lay dormant having seemingly slipped into the pages of history. But all was not lost, for in 2011 Welch Motorsport announced their plans to rejuvenate the Proton name with an independent entry for Dan Welch. The 2011 part entry in the Gen-2 was more of a sighting season than an intended competitive year. In the penultimate race of the year at Silverstone, Welch gained his first point for the team with a 10th place finish.

It was in 2012 that the Proton wheels truly started turning when they entered the Persona, with the new backing of Sopp and Sopp. The highlight of the year came at Oulton Park when Welch finished 4th following a truly epic battle with the Honda of Matt Neal. That even won him the Champagne Moment of the Year Award. In 2013, Welch Motorsport became a strong midfield runner, finishing 10th at the end of the year.

Image Credit: PSP Images

Image Credit: PSP Images

Ten years after a truly woeful season in the BTCC, it seemed history was going to repeat itself in an almost anniversary fashion. Welch announced that they would be running their own engine instead of the standard TOCA unit, which turned out to be a mistake. As soon as they submitted their homologation to TOCA, there was nothing they could change about their power unit. This was a shame, considering their engine was (self-admitted by them) all kinds of awful. For Welch and new boy Ollie Jackson, 2014 was a year spent trailing at the back of the grid struggling to even remain on the same lap as the leaders let alone challenge for position.

It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when Welch Motorsport announced that they would continue with the use of their own engines for Welch and new man Wilmot for the 2015 season. They have announced that they have focused ‘140%’ on the engine across the close season. Now considering that engines are all about balance of power, performance and efficiency, focusing an impossible percentage on their development does cast some doubt over their abilities for this year. But seriously, the team seem optimistic about their chances of advancing through the field. What I am most impressed with is the fact that the Welch boys are sticking with their own power unit. I have a lot of respect for anyone with the determination and perseverance to go against the norm (and the easier option) so as to introduce some variety into the BTCC.

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

In the early 2000s I will admit that I did not have that much of an opinion about the Proton team. What I do have however is a piece of broken Proton that I collected from Thruxton from 2004 I believe it was. As soon as Dan Welch entered his independent Proton into the championship, my attention, my respect and my heart was stolen. I will always have a great deal of respect and fondness for the Welch prepared Proton team, hence the inception of my affectionate ‘Squelch’ nickname that I often use.

Proton has never been a front runner in the British Touring Car Championship; they are the true underdog manufacturer whose time will one day come. Proton has enjoyed success in Asian based touring car series, but never in Britain. If anyone can take Proton to the top, it could only be Welch Motorsport. Their persistence even against all adversity put before them is admirable and eventually their hard work will pay off.

I wish them all the best for their 2015 BTCC Season!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for all the updates from BTCC Media Day @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

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