I’ve been to a considerable amount of races all over the world, but nothing could have prepared me for the Macau Grand Prix.
The uniqueness of this street race comes from the nature of the course. To the locals it is known as Circuito da Guia. To put it lightly, this track is a little rough around the edges.
There are zero run-off areas. There are some escape routes at the end of the longer corners, but even those are very short.
It was especially a challenge for the drivers in all the series during the race starts. If you were in the front of the pack you would most likely not get into any real trouble through the opening two sweepers and the first big stop at the third corner.
Same for the rear of the pack. You probably had enough time to stop if there was an incident in front of you.
But if you were in the absolute middle of the pack there was a very high chance that there would be an incident going into the third corner and there would be just no way to escape it whatsoever.
After that it was pretty much ever driver for themselves. Since the track is very narrow it was mostly single-file racing.
Like any other race track, the fastest way was to cut the corners as much as possible while clipping mirrors and wheels.
In the World Touring Car Championship the cars are very evenly matched. In order to pull a faster time you really have to take risks and draft very closely to your opponents.
Passing really only happens at the Lisboa corner. It is a very tight corner after the longest straight on the entire course.
This is pretty much where all the major pile-ups happen. But this is also where the most exciting racing happens as well.
Check out Romain Dumas taking the fast line through this corner. I just love the way the GT3 Cup car looks.
Disabled cars get moved very quickly as there are huge cranes lining the entire length of the course.
It is the absolute fastest way to get a car out of the way. Sometimes the yellow flag is out for less than a minute as a crane is always ready to pick up its next customer.
This Civic was lifted to safety after having mechanical issues on the long straightaway. It’s a good thing this team opted for strong wheels.
It’s called Lisboa corner because it was located right in front of Hotel Lisboa. This was actually the new Grand Lisboa: just to the left of it was the original hotel.
The very next corner was one of the most beautiful on the entire 3.8 mile course.
It happens to go under an overpass, and on the inside of the corner are shops that were still open for business.
On the other side was a huge pink-colored police station. I just loved the way this area looked. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
There was quite a gap in the Armco, which provided for some interesting framing.
Most of the shops and restaurants surrounding the course were fairly empty, so the shop owners would come and hang out with us. I can’t think of a better way to spend an entire work day.
The sun came out only a few times the entire weekend. Most of the time it was overcast, but because of the density of the trees and buildings there were certain parts of the track that were lit much better than others. It made for some really beautiful shooting locations.
This corner is known as Moorish Hill and it was one of my favorites, because all the cars would crest this hill and make a sharp right turn just before hitting a convenience store located on the outside of the corner.
I swear the open-wheel cars were taking that corner so fast that they seemed like they would just launch and go airborne as soon as they crested the hill.
It is a bit off-camber as well, so many of the front-wheel drive cars got a little light at the rear.
Most of the cars exiting this corner got very close to the outside Armco, and in many cases they would lose their side mirrors at that very spot.
Then there is just a short straight into a section of the course that was permanently under a double-yellow flag. It is only seven meters wide and leads to a very tight hairpin corner that only has one line, so you couldn’t really pass if you wanted to anyways.
Because the course is so harsh on the cars the red flag came out nearly every session.
During the qualifying session for WTCC, Charles Ng was going for his fast lap when the red flag came out. The fast lap was scratched.
But luckily his teammate Franz Engstler did not get caught up, and he put a good enough time down to get into the second qualifying session. Charles will talk a bit more about his weekend in my interview with him.
It was nice because some of the hotels allowed the public on their roof to enjoy the race and some coffee as well. It gave me some great vantage points that I could never achieve at a normal road course.
It was actually interesting to see the difference in the line that the open-wheel cars take versus the touring cars, which barely have any aero at all.
It was most evident on the fastest corners on the course, which the open-wheel cars could take pretty much flat-out.
Whereas the touring cars really had to fight the steering wheel non-stop to keep the car from going into the wall.
But then again driving an open-wheel car on such a harsh course presents its own challenges.
For example, the touring cars were always bouncing off each other almost every corner.
They rub bumpers and tap doors like it’s normal.
The open-wheel guys always kept a safe distance from the car in front of them unless they were attempting a pass. With just a slight bit of contact they would be sent flying.
They also had to be very careful at Melco hairpin, which is one of the tightest corners in motorsport.
Many of the cars are modified specifically for this corner, otherwise they just wouldn’t have the turning radius to get around it.
Most of the closed-wheel guys did not have much of a problem, although Charles Ng told me he had to slip the clutch just a bit to kick the rear-end out in order to get around Melco in case he came in at a shallow angle.
There were just so many little intricacies about driving on a street course that I never knew about. On top of all of that there was the Motorcycle Grand Prix, which was just a whole new world to me. This was the first time I had ever shot professional motorcycle racing and I absolutely loved it. Although it was a very uneasy feeling shooting a Macau, as two competitors had died. On Thursday a Portuguese rider, Luis Carreira, had a terrible accident during qualifying for the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix and on Friday a Hong Kong racing driver, Phillip Yau, died at the hospital after having a freak accident in his touring car on the fastest corner of the course. He was competing in the Macau Touring Car Cup.
This was the 59th running of the Macau Grand Prix and it was very unfortunate that there were such terrible tragedies – but motorsport is inherently dangerous. In the end that is why we love it, that is why it is thrilling. But safety is the number one priority and every year the FIA approves this street course for racing.
Next year will mark the 60th anniversary and the city state of Macau has some interesting plans for the race. They are planning on making it two full weekends of back to back racing. I can only hope I will be there to experience such a massive gathering of racing and car culture.