First-Ever Neo R3 Lotus Racing Gathering!

First-Ever Neo R3 Lotus Racing Gathering!

Lumba Pantai by Kelompok Marhaen at Pantai Balok Reading First-Ever Neo R3 Lotus Racing Gathering! 11 minutes
Protons to me have always been a bit of a love/hate relationship even years before I got my driving license. It’s not that I don’t like them but I’ve always been rather critical about their products and what they are supposed to represent. For example, the Proton Savvy was ‘different’ to say the least and then there were also cars like the Saga LMST which had a carbureted engine. Well, not there’s anything wrong with that but a carbureted engine in 2008? Really? But before you think that I’m an ‘anti-Proton’ kinda guy, my dad had a Proton Satria back in the 90s and even today I love going through websites like Mudah and the Facebook marketplace for the oddball Proton Arena (because I weirdly adore them). See, I do like them, And to be fair, Proton is really stepping their game as even their current crop of cars give you bang for buck like the Saga and their SUVs like the X50 and X70. However, the mid-2000s Proton were rather abysmal. Everything was just ‘plastic fantastic’.

The R3 Lotus Was A Bold Statement

But with every troubling time of a manufacturer, there’s always a decent model that stands out from the rest. In Proton’s case, it was the Satria Neo. It was marketed to the youth as the successor to the ever so loved Satria. The Satria GTI was a huge hit when it came out back in 1999 as revolutionary as it was brilliant. The Lotus-tuned chassis, Mitsubishi-derived engine and Recaro seats really brought Proton to new heights. And these were all before the boffins at Proton’s R3 division got their hands together for the Satria R3. However, the Satria Neo never really got a hot hatch variant when it was first released and fans were rather disappointed by the Neo in general, one of which was Devan. See, Devan was rather indifferent about the Neo when it came out but when Proton announced a limited-production Neo, he went head over heels for it. But who could blame him, the Proton in question was the 25 unit-only Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing. We met Devan a few years back and even put his car on display at our NEAT Fest: Modern Classic Showcase at the Art of Speed back in 2019. He’s currently the third owner of the car and also the person that invited us for this special drive. Much to our surprise, there has never been a gathering of the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing before this drive and we were told that more than five units will be coming out of hibernation for a drive up Genting Highlands. And us being us, we tagged along for the drive with a car that rather suits the occasion. While it isn’t another unit of the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing, it does in fact have some of that Lotus DNA in its blood a.k.a the MODS101 NEGTI. This was a cherry-popping moment for us as the GTI has never been up Genting Highlands, well at least since we took ownership. And what better way to test out the new and improved Brembo brakes and the new Titan coilovers (new episode coming soon, by the way!).

History In The Making

We were told that the meeting point for the drive will be at Dataran Merdeka early Sunday morning, which is a rather fitting salute to the country that made it. Fun fact, the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing was actually launched to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Proton, hence the limited production run of just 25 units. Anyways, a total of four cars showed up at the Dataran before we headed out of town towards the Karak highway. As usual, a Sunday morning on Karak highway is a joyous occasion for car spotters with supercars gathering at the BHP petrol station just before heading up the mountain but seeing five of these cars casually driving up was a sight to behold. As we reached the roundabout just before the Genting road, a couple more of the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing cars joined us at the next RV location near the decommissioned cable car station up Ulu Yam - Batang Kali. In total, there were six cars present that day. From the showroom quality to the track junkie, every car was just different in their own way. We also met Mr. Suriya (who was actually a prominent figure in Proton R3 back in the days and was involved in the production of these cars) and his son Dharveen from Dream Street Restoration or ‘DSR’. A name rather familiar in the Proton community known for their restoration works. It was a pleasant surprise to see an actual Neo R3 Lotus that was visually different from the rest as the car owned by 'DSR' actually came with a different R3 bumper from factory. While some may think that it might look like a replica of the original, I see it more like a talking piece due to the history of the car. Then we come to the track junkie among the six cars, still the same on the outside but supercharged on the inside. You may have seen this car before as it was featured by Ron Celestine of Speedhunters a couple of years ago. Not only did this car get a Sprintex supercharger mounted to the engine, the car is thoroughly spruced up for driving pleasure. While those Recaro SR6s look rather at home, the steering wheel on this car is definitely something I was drooling over. This was also the only unit that day that has been a single-owner since new and has even clocked up more than 100,000km in mileage. Pretty neat for a car like this.

Community of Passion

It’s been awhile since we last joined a drive like this due to the pandemic. And frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air because not only was it amazing to see these rare gems being driven but the close-knit community was something I really enjoyed seeing. Everyone was enthusiastic about their cars and you can sense that each and everyone was just thrilled to see fellow owners and cars. The knowledge and information that Devan shared with me really turned my opinion on the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing. I was rather amazed by the information shared by Devan, he even managed to track down each and every unit of the car except for two units. It somewhat reminded me of the online GT-R registry that tracks down the Nismo Z-Tune all over the world. While the Satria may not be a Z-Tune but it’s interesting to see someone spearheading such a feat. Another brilliant addition to the drive was the special tailormade Lotus Racing shirt worn by all the owners. It was made as an exact replica of the ones worn by the Formula One drivers and Proton’s management team during the launch of the Neo R3 Lotus.

A Sprinkle Of Costly and Premium Bits

I always saw the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing as just a normal Neo that has been giving fancy bits. Because let’s be honest, apart from the AP Racing brake kit and Ohlins DFV coilovers, the car seems like just another modded Satria Neo and chassis-wise, it did not receive any additional help from Lotus nor did R3 give it stitch welds like how they beefed up the previous R3. What I find rather disappointing is that Proton did not include Recaro seats on this car but they did wrap the original seats in Nappa leather with the Lotus Racing logo embossed on the headrest. Though it may be something to question, Proton did however manage to improve the performance of the Neo. They dropped 62kg from the overall weight of the car and the engine too has been tuned to make 147hp and 168Nm (additional 19hp and 18Nm from the regular CPS engine) due to a remapped ECU, revised cams and pulleys, stainless steel headers with a full exhaust system and the carbon intake box that houses a K&N filter. The 5-speed gearbox too had tighter ratios to take full advantage of the engine's power. While the numbers are fine, but it's not what I would call impressive. The Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing was special when it was released because not only because the Neo didn’t not have an R3 variant prior to the Lotus Racing car but it was also a special collaboration project between the Lotus Racing F1 Team or Team Lotus which then was owned by none other than Tony Fernandes with the Lotus brand licensed by Proton. Not to be confused with the black and gold Lotus-Renault team from the same year (yes, there were two Lotus teams on the grid that year). So, what is so special about the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing? Supposedly, not all 25 units were sold/produced. From the information gathered, 22 were produced in total with 3 of them being pre-production units. However, only two cars are yet to be identified. But it’s no surprise as the identities of the owners remain a secret because these cars were RM115,000 when it was initially launched in 2010. A price that more than doubled that of a regular bog standard Satria Neo. That being said, there are some VIPs that have owned these cars since new while some have traded hands over the years.

It Could've Been Better But It's Already Great

While these were the halo cars at Proton once upon a time, there is no support for these cars any more. Devan mentioned that original bespoke body panels such as the carbon fiber hood as well as the FRP fenders are no longer in production and even Proton doesn’t keep them in stock. It was said that some owners ended up going for aftermarket parts due to the scarcity of these parts. It was also said that the cars were originally considered to be supercharged from factory but due to technical issues, it was deemed unfavourable by Proton, hence scrapping the idea altogether. Even information regarding the AP Racing brakes still remain rather foggy as even owners are unsure which models these are based off. Something that caught my eye was the painted stripes on these cars. I’ve always believed that the stripes were vinyl stickers but it was in fact painted onto the panel prior to the clearcoat application. While it is cool nonetheless, it may be a painstakingly expensive process if something were to happen to the cars as it may require custom work. While these cars remain a unicorn to most of us, it’s nice that the owners drive them around for their own enjoyment as well as ours. And the owners were a lovely bunch of people as well, with one of them even opening some door trim to help out a fellow owner. Fixer-uppers are one thing but to do it at Genting Highlands is one another level. Now that’s comradery at it’s finest. While I was critical about the car prior to the drive, my opinion changed after meeting the owners. It's more than just the car itself but a passion-fueled community that cares for the same thing. Thanks to Devan and his community for letting us join this drive (and paying for our breakfast). Hopefully we see more of these drives and even see more cars out the next time! Written by | Danial Malek Photos by | Chua Chung Zhi