Saturday, December 08, 2007

Macau sets the heart racing

The Macau Grand Prix carries on into its 54th edition. It’s showtime.

Ever wondered why motorsport fans fuss over street circuits?

Formula One fans are familiar with the Monaco circuit, while Macau’s Guia circuit would pop into the minds of World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) enthusiasts.

Two new street circuits have also been added to the WTCC calendar this year – Pau in France and Porto in Portugal. Meanwhile, Singapore will host the second street race in F1 after Monaco next year, and at night too!

Heart-stopping action: BMW’s Andy Priaulx leading the Macau Grand Prix.
The Macau Grand Prix is one of the oldest active street races in motorsport history, with this year being its 54th edition. Aside from the demanding and risky drives, where racers have to cope with the exhilarating combination of fast straights and sharply twisting corners, the action is brought literally to your doorstep, or balcony (whichever you prefer).

One minute you are watching the race live on the television from the 18th floor of the hotel, another minute you are on the balcony, cheering your racing heroes on.

The TV commentators are no longer audible, their voices drowned out by the roaring engines of the powerful machines.

And as noise begins to fade off as the cars zoom further away from your hotel, the TV’s audio system becomes audible again – until the next lap that is.

Being so close to the action really gets your adrenaline pumping. And being in the comfort of your hotel room beats sitting on a hill under the scorching sun any time.

For the drivers and riders, it is even scarier. Unlike a conventional race track, there are no run-offs if you go off the tarmac. Just smack into the hard, solid wall.

Team Aviva Kawasaki’s Jimmy Moore should know. He brushed into a wall during qualifying of the 600cc Supersport Class of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix. He was thankful he did not fall and skid into the wall.

“(In Macau), the track at one point gets narrower until it is less than two lanes wide. You need to be spot on and be on the mark all the time.

“My shoulder is all bruised and red, but luckily I did not fall off,” said the 30-year-old American, who made his dèbut at the Guia circuit last month (November).

Moore recounted an incident a few years back where a rider crashed into the wall at 90kph and smashed his face and broke his wrist, and explained why a street circuit was more demanding.

“After racing for a while, the walls just blend in. At first you notice this wall, that wall, but after a while, it blends in. It is like playing a video game until you fall down and go Arrrghhh!,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moore’s team mate Michael “The Blade” Rutter was denied by fellow Briton Steve Plater a record-breaking seventh Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix title.

The grid girls were also a hit with race fans and photographers.
Starting from pole, Rutter had a poor start and was pushed into third place, before making a mistake on the 13th lap – causing him to finish 11th in the race.

“It was my own fault. (Going into a bend), I outbraked myself and my rear wheel lifted. I overshot the track and heard the crowd going ‘Whoa!’,” said Rutter, who currently shares the record of having six wins at Macau with the retired Ron Haslam.

If the narrow circuit was tough for the riders, imagine the challenge it posed to the WTCC drivers.

Especially for Team Aviva’s Colin Turkington, who also made his dèbut in Macau last month.

Not only was he unfamiliar with the track, but his BMW 320si was weighed down by a further 90kg as well.

“It is 60kg for my gearbox, and another 30kg because of the rear-wheel-drive,” he explained.

Turkington, who is participating in the WTCC as a wild card entry, uses a six-speed sequential gearbox, while the other drivers use the conventional five-speed H-pattern gearbox.

Except for the BMW 320si, the other cars – the Alfa Romeo 156, Chevrolet Lacetti and SEAT Leon – are front-wheel-drive machines.

Despite the extra weight, Turkington finished Race 2 in eighth place and took home a point. He had finished the Race 1 in 14th place.

“I am very happy and content with the result. There was a lot to do when I got here. I had to learn about the track really quickly,” he said.

Turkington said he was thinking of changing his gearbox to the conventional H-pattern one so that he would not be handicapped by the extra 30kg.

“I will have to do that if I want to win,” he said, although he was unsure whether he would compete in a full season of the WTCC next year.

BMW’s Andy Priaulx won Race 2, which was enough to clinch his third successive WTCC championship, after his nearest rival Yvan Muller of SEAT was forced to retire at the end of Race 1 due to a mechanical failure.

Another highlight of the Macau Grand Prix was the FIA Formula 3, which was won by Briton Oliver Jarvis of Team Reckless Tom’s.

Other side events held at the 6.2km circuit include the CTM Cup, Hotel Fortuna Trophy, Bel-Lago Cup, Porshe Carrera Cup Asia, and Macau Grand Prix Committee Scooter Cup.

The CTM Cup is open to cars which conform to Superproduction regulations, while the Hotel Fortuna Trophy and Bel-Lago Cup are a competition of Group N 2000cc cars open to Macau licence holders and Hong Kong licence holders respectively.

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