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.
One awesome article... Even still images give me goosebumps. I wish I was there. You guys really know how to use a camera.
Hello Larry, i am the racer of the yellow GTR33 with back fire. I love the pic you have took so much. I would like contact with you to have the high resolution posted in my office. Thanks Dicky Chan
This looks like the most amazing race track in the world. Great work Larry. An undeniable asset to Speedhunters.
i saw this race on tv a few years ago, think it was a WTCC race! soo enjoyable to watch! the joys of a street track!
Why after two fatalities was this race even ok to continue? How completely asinine. How many more deaths will they allow before they decide something needs to change?
FunctionFirst What about all the deaths on Isle of man TT, or Pikes Peak, or Bonneville? Or Formula 1?
This is the world of racing, and it is very unfortunate. I don't like it either. You could have an accident while sky diving or even get attacked by a shark while surfing. An accident is an accident.
Larry Chen FunctionFirst Having raced Pikes Peak for nine years I can tell you with confidence that we as racers understand the risks before we get in the car. Why do it...? Because nothing reminds you that you're alive more than being able to hold hands with death for twelve minutes and then reaching the summit and being able to let go. I'm sure the sentiment is the same for any driver/rider that chooses to compete ata dangerous location. Emphasis on the word "Chooses".
FunctionFirst Most of the motorcycle racers are competitors in the Irish Open Roads championship and racing at Macau is no different from racing at the Isle of Man, Northwest 200, Ulster 200 or so many other open roads events. To them racing on a closed circuit is too pedestrian, too staid. Do some searches online for the events mentioned and read about the history of the events and riders. Death in any sport is tragic, but the competitors choose to participate. Through history, if we canceled every race as a result of injury or fatality I agree that we would all be playing golf.
GregSampson FunctionFirst You could even die from golfing. It has happened before. Do you think they would cancel golf? No!
Larry Chen GregSampson First of all there's a vast difference between something that is inherently dangerous, like racing, and negligence. Two deaths in two different classes on the same course in the same weekend smacks of ignorance, arrogance and unnecessary risks. After the death of two people I'd hope race officials and fans that actually have a heart, would stop to ask questions.
Larry, your argument is logically flawed, as even in golf, if the CONDITIONS are hazardous or the course itself presents something that can kill a competitor, you're damn right they'll cancel golf. My argument is still the same, no one needs to die for a silly game of golf or two people for a single race weekend. There's a GIANT disparity between accidents happening due to something that's already dangerous, and needless death due to a course being too dangerous, unsafe, or negligently managed.
Dan Wheldon didn't have to die, Ayrton Senna didn't have to die, but they did. Not because they were playing with fire, but because of mis-management, poor decisions and stupid arguments like "that's just racing". Have more respect for the sport than that, and as a fan, demand more respect. Shit happens, I fucking get that. But life is precious, racing is entertainment and not worth dying for. Grow up.
FunctionFirst GregSampson You are right. Racing is not worth dying for in your eyes. But in the eyes of those competitors they risk their lives every time they put their helmet on and they know that. Sometime there is just no rhyme or reason why people do things. Like jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Do you think all the drivers going up Pikes Peak or going 400mph at Bonneville would do it if it was safe as staying home and knitting a sweater?
And you are right it is entertainment, but I guarantee you that all of those racers at the Macau Grand Prix would race if there was not a single soul watching.
Some truly stunning shots Larry, definitely some inspiration for an aspiring motorsport photographer like myself. Thanks!
I'm not sure if this makes me a bad person, but am I the only one who found those pictures of the cranes lifting the cars hilarious? They looked like little Super Men flying in the sky.
Let me guess, a Chevy won! Hotel LIsboa looks amazing. It must be fookin frightning going around there on a bike. They must be mental!
Muy bueno el circuito... excelente cobertura del evento, lamento mucho lo del piloto que perdió la vida. Saludos Larry !
Wow Larry Epic post. I hope you cover Macau and Charles more in the future. Very cool posts!
i know all the vegan peta people are trying to ban macau from being a place that exists because the track is so dangerous, but man i really love this circuit and i hope it never goes away