BTCC History – BTC-T Proton Impian

Proton Impian BTCC
Image thanks to Flash at Wheels Age.

The BTC-T era of the British Touring Car Championship has been responsible for some of the most talked about cars in BTCC history. You have the Triple Eight-run Vauxhall Astra Coupe, which dominated the early BTC-T era in the hands of Plato, Muller and Thompson. You have the Honda Integra Type R which famously wrested the driver’s titles away from Vauxhall in 2005 and 2006 in the hands of Matt Neal.

And then you have some of the lesser talked about cars of the era, like the Pegeuot 406 Coupe and the car I’m exploring in today’s edition of BTCC History, the BTC-T Proton Impian.

Not often noted for its BTCC success, the Proton Impian was one of the BTC-T era’s more unusual entries, and it never quite managed to take the BTCC by storm. I’ve looked back at the history of the Proton Impian in the BTCC in this edition of BTCC History.

The Car

First released in August 2000, the Proton Impian, or Proton Waja as it was known in its native Malaysia was a compact, 4-door saloon which eventually went on to sell nearly 300,000 models between 2000 and 2012. The Impian was Proton’s first fully in-house designed car, with the company having worked closely with Mitsubishi, (even rebadging Mitsubishi cars for sale in Malaysia) since 1983.

In late 2001, Proton announced that they would be entering the 2002 BTCC season with the Impian under the Team Petronas Syntium Proton banner.

BTC-T Proton Impian Technical Specifications

David Leslie Proton BTCC 2002
David Leslie in 2002. Image thanks to BTCC.

Chassis: Proton Waja

Length: 4,473 mm

Width:1,821 mm

Height:1,356.5 mm

Wheelbase: 2,600 mm

Engine: Mountune Racing 1,996 cc, in-line 4 cylinder

Drive: FWD

Transmission: X-trac six speed sequential

Weight:1050kg

Stats sourced from BTCC Pages & Ultimate Car Page

The Proton Impian In The BTCC

Proton’s debut in the BTCC came on April 1st 2002 at Brands Hatch GP. With experienced BTCC racer and 1999 runner-up David Leslie alongside impressive 2001 rookie Phil Bennett, the team’s driver lineup was a strong one with plenty of BTCC experience between the pair. Despite winning the 2001 title with Vauxhall, Jason Plato found himself without a drive for the 2002 season and was hotly tipped to drive for Proton before moving to ASCAR.

The early years of the BTC-T era are remembered as the years where the Triple Eight-run Vauxhall Astra Coupe was dominant, but Proton were joined on the 2002 grid by Honda and MG, as the three manufactueres tried to topple the dominant Vauxhalls.

Phil Bennet 2002 Proton
Phil Bennett struggled at Proton in 2002 after a succesfull first season in the Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Image thanks to James Bearne and Sutton Images.

Proton’s first weekend in the BTCC passed without much success. Leslie retired from both races and Bennett finished 11th and 6th across the series’ opening weekend. However, it didn’t take long for the team to pick up their first BTCC silverware. Leslie finished 3rd in the feature race at Oulton Park in round two and followed up the strong form with further 3rd placed finishes at Silverstone and Mondello Park all before the midpoint of the season. Another podium, this time a, 2nd place in race 11 at Croft followed before a solid but unspectacular end to the year saw the season finish without any further podium finishes.

Leslie finished 2002 7th in the championship on 79 points, but teammate Bennett wouldn’t be so fortunate. His 6th place in the opening weekend at Brands Hatch remained his best result of the year as he ended the season 16th out of 17 drivers in the BTC-T touring class. It was a tough season for Bennett, who had greatly impressed with his final season finish of 4th the year before.

Proton finished 2002 4th and last in the constructors standings, 67 points behind Honda and the team finished 7th out 8 in the team’s standings.

The Proton Impian continued to be Proton’s challenger of choice in 2003 and with a winter revamp of the car complete hopes were high of an improvement in the coming season. Leslie and Bennett remained on as drivers, but Proton would fare worse in 2003 than they did in their debut year.

David Leslie BTCC Proton 2003
Leslie remained with the team for the 2003 season. Image thanks to CRASH.net.

Leslie finished the season in 11th with Bennett 17th as Proton again finished last in the manufacturer’s standings, 168 points behind MG. Poor reliability hit the team hard, as the Impian failed to finish 14 times over the course of the season with Leslie failing to start the final race of the year at Oulton Park.

Leslie’s 5th place in the opening race of the season at Mondello Park would be the team’s best result of the year, with Bennett’s 8th place at Rockingham his best result.

2004 featured the biggest shakeup at Proton since the team joined the BTCC as both Leslie and Bennett left Proton and the BTCC. The pair were replaced by Malaysian Fariqe Hairuman and South African touring car champion and race winner Shaun Watson-Smith. With SEAT joining the series with an S2000 specification Toledo Cupra, the competition at the head of the BTCC increased and Proton’s two rookies struggled in their maiden seasons.

Proton BTCC 2004
Proton’s final BTCC season was a tough one, and the team failed to register a podium finish. Image thanks to BTCC.

Watson-Smith scored a season-best result of 7th at Brands Hatch Indy early on in the year on his way to 14th in the standings, whilst Hairuman struggled in the BTCC and finished the year on 0 points and in 23rd in the table. The Impian was again unreliable, and Proton finished 4th and last in the manufacturer’s standings for the third year running. The team finished 10th in the team’s standings.

Proton withdrew from the BTCC at the end of 2004 after three years in the series. The two Impians left the UK and moved to Malaysia where they raced in the Asian Touring Car Championship as the Proton Waja with Fariqe Hairuman as one of the drivers. Hairuman finished second in the 2005 and 2006 championship in the Impian and cars were retired ahead of the 2007 season.

The Proton Impian’s BTCC legacy isn’t a glittering one, but the Impian remains one of the more unusual cars of the early BTC-T era. It was never able to deliver the kind of results Leslie and Bennett were capable of, but Proton’s commitment to the BTCC between 2002 and 2004 can’t faulted.

What are your memories of the Proton Impian in the BTCC? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!

No article about Proton in the BTCC can be complete without mention of the tragic aircraft accident which claimed the lives of David Leslie, Chris Allarton, Richard Lloyd, Mike Roberts and Mike Chapman in 2008. Rest In Peace.

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