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Postcard From Macau, An Old Friend Reports In

From the craziest race meeting In the world

With the FIA WEC season finale in Bahrain last weekend DSC’s resources were stretched very thinly. As is often the case we went looking far and wide for reporting solutions for other meetings, not least the clashing FIA GT3 World Cup in Macau.



The DSC Editor made some calls, one to an old acquaintance known to be out on business in the region struck gold:

Are you in Macau?

“Yes mate.”

Want to write a race report?

“Are you having a laugh!? How much does it pay?”

See it as a sort of ‘DSC Academy’, If you’re good enough I’ll make you a Pro!

“That sounds familiar! No race reports though, but I’ll happily let you know how out all works out here.”

Done!

So here it is, a brief weekend diary from Macau, long home to the Macau Grand Prix and its associated support events, bikes, touring cars, and more recently GTs, Your guide to the scene, Ideas and Cars head honcho, chief bottle washer, factory 24 hour race driver and all round ideas whirlwind… Darren Cox

Macau is a city of contradiction. Butting up to the supposedly conservative monster that is mainline China, it houses gambling, drinking, smoking and other guilty pleasures on an industrial scale. The old town, where the circuit  is situated, is reassuringly dingy and dirty in places and yet across the water the new Macau is Las Vegas x 2. Shiny, clean, fake.

And my first time in Macau saw the racing deliver contradictions. The GT winner was the guy that crashed, the winner of the race that is supposed to identify the next big thing was a ex F1 test driver and the real star of the future could be the guy who finished 11th.

But you know all that. This is a postcard not a race report.

So if you’ve not been to Macau for the GP weekend should you? Yes. As usual at every race meeting there are 1000’s of different experiences. Here was my take on this ‘bucket list’ event.

In a far away land, there are still some familiar things you’ll experience. And as usual in Motorsport its the people that are central to everything.

Prominent and winning in the paddock are old friends such as Trevor Carlin and Vincent Vosse. UK based journalists and driver managers are hovering to pick up next seasons news or next seasons drivers. And all are full of the joys of the event. Whilst the standard Motorsport narrative of ‘it was better here back in the golden days’ is not far away.

The grumpiest in the paddock and bars are of course the drivers. An old friend of DSC and mine is Jann Mardenbourgh who was racing in the F3 event. His Japanese ‘spec’ car was well off the pace, whilst his Japanese F3 title rival was at the pointy end in a European ‘spec’ car. With this disparity (I clocked it at 3 seconds per lap before I stopped looking through embarrassment ) the BOP regime of GT3 becomes a good idea. Discuss?

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Rob Huff was not racing and bemoaning a crazy ban from the TCR event and missed opportunities to paying drivers in the GT race. But Rob clearly knows how to enjoy the event on and off track. Talk in his group was of Dubai 24 hour opportunities. Another far away land that hosts the British paddock well! And a genuine joy was to see the names of Hutchison et al from Isle of Mann TT fame above the garages that Mercedes were camped outside for the GT race. Yup the bike guys get preference to the works German teams. And no-one seems to mind. Another contradiction.

So familiar faces and familiar storylines. But the setting is so unfamiliar. Arriving via the ferry is an unnatural experience. Imagine walking out of Heathrow Terminal 1 10 years ago only to find the Silverstone National pits right in front of you. Thats Macau.

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The circuit is literally in the middle of the city. No hiding away in Battersea Park for this old classic. After experiencing the sound of ohhs and arrhhhhsss from the crowd in the packed grandstands and the sound of 2 and 4 strokes at full chat your next sensory input is the local taxi drivers moaning about the traffic due to the race you are attending and paying them to move you around at. No different to taxi drivers around the world.

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The (not so) Grand Lapa was to be home for the weekend. Clearly past it’s prime, it was perfectly situated with a walk of 10 minutes to the paddock. And for those watching from the terrace on Sunday perfectly situated to get YouTube fodder of an upside-down Audi. The hotel situated on the outside of the kink that caught out Vanthoor. Apparently the Grand Lapa was the place to be back in the day. The paddock gathered there as a group post race and all was good in the world. Today the teams are spread across multiple hotels, reducing the camaraderie and perhaps liver damage of the old golden days.

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That ‘never ceases to amaze’ opportunity to walk or drive on the circuit at night where racing cars were only hours ago is still a must do. And there is a lot to do at night. The old town on it’s own is enough to keep you entertained for a weekend. But my hosts were based in the new part of Macau which meant a taxi or shuttle to Las Vegas on steroids. Outside of F1 I have seen few evening events have as much investment from a Brand in Motorsport. Clear evidence that the lure of Motorsport is still glamorous enough to pull expats from across Asia and wealthy Chinese from the mainland and Hong Kong. Indeed stories of recent dramatic growth in GT racing in China were swirling around the expensive events and temporary paddock all weekend. One for GG to investigate in the close season no doubt.

And by the way the paddock is normally a bus station. And that shouldn’t work. Nor should the TCR paddock work in an underground car park. And a motley crew of bikers should not have the garages ahead of multi million dollar works GT efforts.

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And the winner should not be the guy who finishes the race upside down. But it does work. And it has worked for 63 years. I’m all for innovation. But dear Macau keep being the contradiction that you are. You’ve intrigued me and I’ll be back. But like the others, it won’t be as good as that golden first year I attended the Macau GP. 2016.

Darren Cox

With additional pics from Gerard Vollrath