Thrills and spills in Macau

Three decades after Japanese tyre manufacturer Yokohama began supplying tyres to the Macau Grand Prix, the company returned to the glitz and glamour of what is the Chinese equivalent of Las Vegas to celebrate 30 years of partnership with the event. In order to mark the occasion, Tyres & Accessories was there to smell the rubber and witness the racing action as well as report on the race-to-road developments of the tyre supplier.

The 59th Macau Grand Prix took place in the Chinese special administrative territory of Macau (just across the water from Hong Kong) between 15 and 18 November. As well as the Formula 3 race that Yokohama has been supplying since 1983, the final rounds of the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) and GT ASIA (which Yokohama also supplies) were staged concurrently.

The Macau Grand Prix remains a unique spectacle run on closed off streets in the casino town of Macau City, giving it a  ‘Monaco of the East’ kind of feel. Yokohama has been the event’s control tyre supplier since 1983 when Formula 3 vehicles meeting international regulations were adopted.

And this association has been a source of the events continued popularity and success. This is of course, because as well as the car, tyres and  public spectacle, Macau’s flagship Formula 3 event has exemplified in particular what the series represents in general – a stepping-stone to the world-renowned Formula 1. Many who have performed well in Macau are now found among the elite Formula 1 drivers. This year 30 drivers who finished in top positions in various Formula 3 championships will participate. In fact all you have to do is look back 30 years to the cars Yokohama first supplied at the event and there you find that year’s winner was driven by none other than the legendary Ayrton Senna.

This year’s exciting Formula 3 race was won by Antonio Felix de Costa who described the victory as the greatest of his career. Despite telling journalists in the post-race press-conference that it was won after being pushed to drive “on the limit” for 15 laps, the 21 year-old Portuguese driver basically didn’t put a foot wrong and made regaining the lead from the considerably more experienced Felix Rosenqvist look like something of a formality.

Dramatic Huff performance seals WTCC crown

As far as the WTCC is concerned, there was more action in Macau. Earlier in the year Yokohama had said it will supply tyres for the series through to at least 2015, meaning it will have partnered the race series for at least 10 consecutive years by that point.  However as stable as the tyre supply arrangements are at the moment, the race standings in Macau and the effect they had on the overall World Touring Car Championship itself was another story. While the Chevrolet team has dominated the constructor’s leader board all year, this didn’t make the identity of the eventual champion any easier to predict.

Despite having been the fastest in all the qualifying sessions, British Chevrolet driver and last year’s Macau WTCC leg winner Rob Huff made a monumental – and somewhat dramatic – error in race one. Planting his car into the wall not only meant that Huff limped back to the pits with bits of front wing and rear axle apparently hanging off, but it also gave team-mates and rivals Yvan Muller and Alain Menu the opportunity to finish first and second, significantly cutting the points gap between them and leader. All this meant race two would be the decider, with all three drivers being in world title contention at one point.

Huff however, held it together in the second race and capitalised on the mistakes of the drivers in front of him, finishing second behind Menu and finally obtaining a well deserved world crown. His victory means all three Chevrolet drivers have now attained this honour, something that will be especially poignant for Huff who only narrowly missed out last year. This victory also reflects well on Chevrolet, a team which has set the pace with its Cruze cars all season, but it is somewhat ironic that the team is now bowing out of WTCC leaving the reigning world champion currently without a car to defend his title in.

In the Yokohama Trophy, which is awarded to privateers, Darryl O’Young was able to win both races in front of his home supporters; Norbert Michelisz was crowned champion of the Drivers’ Trophy, while Lukoil Racing won the Team’s Trophy. Last but not least, Tiago Monteiro gave Honda and JAS Motorsport their first podium result, only one month after they joined the championship.

Alongside these two series which are well known in the west we also seen on the track. GT Asia, which is an international competition held in Japan, Malaysia and Macau for primarily FIA GT3 regulation cars and of course the two-wheel entrants.

It has to be said that during the event two drivers died from injuries sustained in collision with the track-side wall during preliminary rounds of some of the supporting events. The first was Portuguese motorcycle rider Luis Filipe de Sousa Carreira who died from injuries sustained after he crashed during qualifying for the motorcycling event. Despite grisly footage surfacing of first responders giving him CPR, there was nothing that could be done for the rider.

The second was Phillip Yau Wing-choi, from Hong Kong who died in a separate crash during qualifying for the CTM Macau Touring Car Cup. Yau died after losing control of his vehicle at around 125 miles per hour and hitting a wall. An official statement said Yau “succumbed to injuries sustained in a racing accident during the qualifying session.” Despite being rushed to hospital he was pronounced dead half an hour later. A minutes silence was held for both victims.

Macau GP committee co-ordinator Joao Manuel Costa Antunes defended the event’s safety record: “In over 60 years of the Grand Prix, the record can be considered acceptable…Those involved in motorsport and motorbikes know exactly what I’m saying.” What is clear is that tyre performance has not been implicated in either of the incidents. On the contrary, according to those supplying the tyres, these incidents provide further impetus to develop more safety benefits for those that push man and machine to the limit.

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