Macau: Whats the Attraction?

Every year, tens of thousands of fans flock to the Macau Street Circuit in mid November to watch the best drivers and teams bid for glory from four different disciplines of racing: Touring Cars, Formula 3, Superbikes and GT Sportscars.

So whats the attraction?

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For many motorsport fans, a series that holds a regular event on a street circuit each year holds a special level of attraction. The skills needed to guide a Touring Car or Sportscar or Single Seater through the tight confines of a street circuit as fast as possible, as close to the armco/concrete barriers as possible often brings the most reward to the best drivers

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The Monaco Grand Prix and to a certain aspect The Singapore Grand Prix, hold high regard in Formula One. For Sportscars its the combined Street circuit & Racing circuit nature of Le Mans.

For Touring Cars, there are a few to choose from. Bathurst for the Australian V8 Supercars, for the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship it was Gothenburg whilst the DTM has the Norisring.

But Macau stands out above the rest.

Up until last year, Macau was the Finale for the FIA World Touring Car Championship and from this year its the Finale for the TCR International Series & the TCR Asia Series. In 2015 there will be 30 entries for the two TCR races.

Here some previous Macau Guia Touring Car Winners from different era’s…

Group A:
Hans-Joachim Stuck
Tom Walkinshaw
Gianfranco Brancatelli
Johnny Cecotto
Roberto Ravaglia
Tim Harvey
Emanuele Pirro

SuperTouring:
Joachim Winkelhock
Kelvin Burt
Frank Biela
Steve Soper

Super2000/WTCC:
Augusto Farfus
Rob Huff
Andy Priaulx
Yvan Muller
Alain Menu
Norbert Michelisz

As you can see, some of the finest Tintop drivers have triumphed there…

I will also point out that a win at Macau is not only important to Touring Car drivers. Winning the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix is a big achievement for single seater drivers aspiring to reach the highest height of the single seater ladder: Formula One. Winning this race raises the stock of a driver in his career and often proves a driver will go on to have an illustrious career.

To prove the point, here are a few names of some former Macau F3 Grand Prix that some of you might recognise…

Ayrton Senna
David Brabham
Michael Schumacher
Mauricio Gugelmin
David Coulthard
Ralf Schumacher
Takuma Sato

Some of the best Formula One drivers to have raced in the sport…

But why do so many drivers and riders seek glory on the streets of the former Portuguese Colony?

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In some respects, its the nature of the circuit. It combines a very fast section that begins at “R Bend” continues through the awesome Mandarin bend and which finishes at the infamous “Lisboa” corner. Touring Cars will almost reach 150mph along this stretch before heavy braking into the 90 degree right hander and then add in the factor that often you’ll have drivers race to Lisboa either two or three cars wide, jockeying for position and you can understand the danger and the thrill.

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Lisboa

Hell, the amount of door mirrors lost as the drivers push the limits and get as close as possible to the edge is amazing.

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The next part of the layout is more tricky. After Lisboa comes San Francisco and the steady climb up the hill to Maternity. The left right combination is infamous for seeing attempted overtaking passes. I still recall watching Pepe Oriola try to pass Tom Chilton in an identical Chevrolet Cruze in the first 2013 FIA WTCC race, only for contact to damage Chiltons car. In the second race, Oriola attempted to pass James Thompson in the Lada Granta in the same spot, with identical results, seeing Thompson retire…

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But its still possible to pass…

The whole time during the tight and twisty section that follows onto the Solitude Esses and down Faraway Hill is a high speed challenge to thread the needle whilst dancing as close as you dare to the concrete walls. Theres one racing line here and any deviation will lead to the end of your race. Stick to the grip and don’t stray from the racing line.

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After Faraway Hill follows Moorish Hill, a short straight that leads to a sharp second gear 90 degree right hander where there is plenty of tyre barriers around you. A good clean exit from here leads to a fast sector time but the next challenge of the Donna Maria Bend awaits. Like every lap in every race at any circuit, you need the perfect line to set the best time and getting the line right through Donna Maria adds to the challenge.

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Taking as much speed as you dare through this left hander leads you onto the Iconic Melco Hairpin.

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Normally at any circuit, Street or Permanent, a hairpin is an overtaking oppurtunity. But not at Macau. During the Macau Event, permanent waved yellow flags are in operation due to the fact that whilst the entrance is wide enough for two cars, the exit narrows dramatically to only allow one car out the otherside. Its narrow but racing safely allows racing to continue.

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The lap is almost done now. You put your foot down and get the car/bike accelerating as quick as you can on ghe short run to Fishermans and then the next short run back through R Bend.

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For Superbike riders, the danger is not only the speed but how close they can ride against the wall. Helmets have grazed concrete, knee pads have scraped armco barriers at incredible speeds and life hangs in the blance whilst talent keeps the bike under control.

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For Touring Car drivers, a slip on track can lead to a terrifying accident that can cause a race stopping pile up… and it often has. But again that talent has also seen drivers glide cars out of Mandarin at 140mph and then overtake into Lisboa whilst twitching under heavy braking.

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For Formula Three drivers, its the skill of keeping a speeding projectile thats often setup in a low downforce profile, off the walls and dancing as close to the barriers as possible whilst going as fast as they can. Guiding a lightweight car through the twists and turns of the Guia circuit is a skill alone… To go fastest opens up a bigger talent. A win in the Macau Grand Prix often brings a large reward thats bigger and more rewarding than just the race win itself. It csn also be career changing.

By the way, I’ll happily admit, I’ve got goosebumps writing this…

Thats what Macau does to me and I’ve only watched it on TV since 2004…

Nope, I’ve never been to Macau. Its on the bucketlist though. However the respect you have for the drivers that race there is amazing. I’ve included a link here for a video of Rob Huffs fastest lap during race two of the 2014 FIA WTCC weekend. He won that race in the Lada Granta Sport TC1 car with a 1.6 litre turbo petrol engine.

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Never mind the noise…keep an eye on how close Huffy gets to the barrier and walls. Thats commitment from a 7 time Macau race winner. The video itself is on Huffy’s Youtube page.

Now you’ll notice a few British names on the winners lists earlier in this post. Quite simply, Macau can be a good luck charm for British drivers. Andy Priaulx won all three of his FIA WTCC titles on these streets as did Rob Huff. But if you look at the names on all those lists, there are some of the most legendary Tintop drivers ever that have taken the top step.

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I’ll be honest for a moment. I love watching tintops racing at Macau. I also love the TCR series that have begun this year. But earlier on in 2015 there was talk of potentially seeing a contingent of BTCC Teams and drivers in what would have been a flyaway race. A cracking idea in my opinion but I realise that cost, transport, budgets etc make this impossible.

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However the 2015 TCR International Series Grand Finale sees Rob Huff looking for his eighth victory in Macau as he drives a very colourful WestCoast Racing Honda Civic whilst James Nash returns since WTCC days in a Proteam Ford Focus & Renault Clio ace Josh Files makes his debut in a Campos Racing Opel Astra.

Theres added BTCC interest this year as former Team Hard/Rotek Racing/Handy Motorsport driver Robb Holland contests the event in a Roadstar Racing SEAT Leon whilst former BTCC star Gianni Morbidelli has contested the enter TCR season for WestCoast Racing.

Its good to see the Brits back in Macau.

Add in the rule change for TCR that sees the Race Two grid set by the finishing order of Race One and who knows… Huffy could take wins 8 & 9…

As the saying goes… “Anything can happy at Macau…”

For me, getting up at 4am on a Sunday morning in late November, sitting on the sofa covered by a blanket with a hot cup of tea, cheering the British WTCC Drivers on and watching many FIA WTCC Titles being decided on a knife edge atmosphere is amazing and I look forward to what is the Blue Riband event that is the Macau Grand Prix each year.

So, as I asked at the beginning…
What is the attraction of Macau?

Quite simply, the thrill, the excitement and the atmosphere. For a driver, if you can win there, you are one of the best drivers in the world and well on your way to glory. You are the best of the best in your field. The racing is exciting and the risk is high but the reward is worth it all.

Thats why Motorsport fans love Macau.

Until next time, All the best!

Phil!!!

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