Pro­ton’s a Skaife bet

Top Gear is a great test, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

WHEN V8 Su­per­car star Mark Skaife gets be­hind the wheel of a hum­ble hatch­back on the track, one of two things can hap­pen.

The ex­pe­ri­ence will go swim­mingly for the brand, or it will back­fire hor­ri­bly.

So when Skaife got be­hind the wheel of a Pro­ton Sa­tria for his stint as a celebrity driver on the lo­cal ver­sion of the UK hit Top Gear, Pro­ton Aus­tralia ex­ec­u­tives were jus­ti­fi­ably ner­vous.

How­ever, manag­ing di­rec­tor John Star­tari says the whole ex­pe­ri­ence turned out to be a pleas­ant sur­prise.

‘‘When you get peo­ple like Mark Skaife com­ment­ing on how good our car is, that’s been ben­e­fi­cial,’’ he says.

‘‘We are happy to sign on for the next se­ries.’’

Apart from Skaife, Star­tari ap­pre­ci­ates the feed­back from the other celebrity driv­ers who have com­pleted the track drive.

The Top Gear Aus­tralia Sa­tria has sailed through its var­i­ous track chal­lenges without miss­ing a beat, apart from a few mi­nor scrapes.

‘‘Again, that’s good news,’’ Star­tari says.

He says he was ini­tially scep­ti­cal about sup­ply­ing a 1.6-litre Sa­tria for the show, based on what hap­pened in the Bri­tish se­ries, which al­lowed celebri­ties to thrash a Suzuki Liana and, more re­cently, a Chevro­let Lacetti, sold here as the Holden Viva.

‘‘I was a bit con­cerned about how the car would be por­trayed, based on how the UK show treats its car,’’ he says.

‘‘But the pro­duc­ers re­as­sured me it would be fairly treated and used ap­pro­pri­ately.’’

The pos­i­tive ex­po­sure has been a good thing and is help­ing Star­tari build the case for a GTi ver­sion of the Sa­tria.

With the aid of Top Gear, he is keen to reignite in­ter­est in a GTi.

‘‘We also want to lever­age our Lo­tus re­la­tion­ship af­ter we build some mar­ket share,’’ Star­tari says.

But he claims the com­pany needs the right en­gine, whether it be a four-cylin­der tur­bocharged unit or a high-per­for­mance nat­u­rally as­pi­rated one.

In the short term, Pro­ton Malaysia has shown off a hot­ter Sa­tria hatch with the Campro CPS en­gine, which will prob­a­bly be here early next year.

The CPS en­gine gets a vari­able valve lift sys­tem and a vari­able in­take man­i­fold sys­tem to lift power and bet­ter low-down re­sponse.

The Sa­tria CPS de­vel­ops a mod­est 94kW at 6500 revs and 150Nm at 4500 revs.

The hatch gets a wider front and rear tracks, body kit, lower sus­pen­sion, 16-inch al­loys, rear dif­fuser and a huge rear wing.

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