Luck comes in threes
This weekend’ s Macau Grand Prix will be historic for a number of reasons, not least because it is the last time cars prepared to the current Formula 3 rules will race.
The FIA took a direct involvement in Macau two years ago, giving the headline Formula 3 event its official sanction at the highest level. The Grand Prix began in 1956 as a sports car race and first adopted Formula 3 in 1983. Since then the race has been won by the likes of Riccardo Patrese, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Takuma Sato, Lucas di Grassi, local driver Edoardo Montara, Antonio Felix da Costa and Felix Rosenqvist.
There are a number of areas where Macau and New Zealand have synergy. Like Macau, New Zealand’s Grand Prix has official recognition of its Grand Prix status from the FIA. The two events ‘book-end’ the competition year – New Zealand opening the season and Macau closing it off.
Like Macau, the New Zealand event in February has been won by a ‘who’s who’ of rising race drivers. Likewise, New Zealand’s race, being part of the Toyota Racing Series, has attracted a long procession of stars on their way to Formula 3 or other categories.
A number of Kiwi hopefuls have raced there, but a Kiwi has yet to win the race.
Graeme Lawrence kicked off in 1973 (back when it was a Formula Pacific event) with third overall and raised the bar in 1976 with second place – the best result by any Kiwi racer.
Rally and race star Steve Millen was third in 1975 and then equalled Lawrence’s performance with second in 1977.
In 1984, Mike Thackwell was third overall.
Multiple FIA World Endurance Championship winner, Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0 winner and current Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley raced there in2007 (12th overall), 2008 (third overall)* and 2009 (DNF, dragged into one of Macau’s spectacular multi-car pileups). Among ‘our’ results, Hartley’s third stands tall: he was P20 at the start and carved through the field to reach the podium, setting race fastest lap in the process.
Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway are Macau DNFs, having raced but not finished there in 2011.
Nick Cassidy has been to Macau twice, posting his best finish – a third place – in 2014 and then a 12th in 2015.
After a bruising northern hemisphere competition year where he finished in the last ever FIA Formula 3 European Championship using current-spec cars, Kiwi Marcus Armstrong comes to Macau as a rookie, arriving as part of a five car assault by the favoured Prema team.
Armstrong says he has been looking forward to this event for a long time and like his team mates “I really cannot wait for the opportunity to compete in such a legendary race. It will be a learning curve as a rookie, but I am with one of the best teams to learn quickly. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank SJM, Teddy and Rene for their support this season – it’s been a memorable year.”
These days, like the New Zealand Grand Prix, it’s hard to win in Macau as a rookie – though not impossible.
For Prema, this is the team’s ‘home from home’ race, in the sense that its title sponsor SJM Theodore Racing is owned by Teddy Yip Jr, whose father Teddy Sr built and sustained the Macau Grand Prix over several decades.
New Zealand’s connection to the event continues off the track, with Ayrton Senna’s win in 1983 being at the wheel of a Ralt RT3 run by Kiwi ex-pat Dick Bennetts.
The 3.8 mile (6.2 km) Guia Circuit features a combination of fast straights and tight corners, with the unforgiving circuit’s minimum width being only seven metres. The entire circuit is bordered either by concrete motorway barrier sections, metres-high stone walls or Armco railing. It included the insane Melco hairpin, the tightest corner in motor racing, and is recognised as one of the most challenging circuits in the world.
A lap of the course with 2016 Toyota Racing Series winner Lando Norris shows how tight and challenging the street course is (with commentary by the voice of TRS Jonathan Green). The 2018 race will be live streamed.