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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

2005 Macau Grand Prix

I managed to catch the highlights of the Macau Grand Prix on Sunday night. For the first time in years, the race was not shown live on Star Sports. The producers at Star deciding to show the action at Sepang instead. Bollocks. Macau has a far longer and prouder tradition and its main feature, the FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup is a very significant event. Just ask former winner Michael Schumacher. In any case, this year's Guia race for tin tops was actually the finale for the WTCC.

There is a connection between A1GP and Macau Grand Prix, in that the current leaders of the the A1, France, represented by Nicolas Lapierre and Alexander Premat were both former Macau Grand Prix winners in year 2003 and 2004 respectively. No surprises why these two lads are murdering the rest of the grid.

This year's Guia race hosted almost the entire WTCC field. However, I am saddened to see that this grid is a lot smaller than in previous years when a lot of competitors from the Asian Touring Car Championship and from Japan's Super Taikyu also took part. Oh well, such is the price of progress I suppose. The Guia is a world championship round after all.

Despite a hefty 60kg weight penalty Andy Priaulx managed to stick it on pole for race 1. This was achieved by a lot of dedication on Andy's part. He twice drove around the circuit in a road car a few days before. The second time being at 3 AM to look at every corner, bump, camber change and surface condition to get his set up absolutely spot on. This coupled with his blinding pace meant he got the pole.

At the start, Augusto Farfus Jr, in an Alfa relatively unhampered by weight penalties managed to get ahead. The race had to be stopped though after an incident at the infamous Lisboa corner involving a spinning BMW that then blocked the entire road. At the restart it was again Farfus in the lead with Priaulx in close attendance. Andy's championship rivals Dirk Muller and Fabrizio Giovanardi in 4th and 9th respectively.

When the Alfas carry weight penalties, the effect is absolutely enormous. By contrast the Bimmers of Priaulx and Dirk Muller take it in their stride and still manage to be very competitive. Priaulx was absolutely glued to the back of Farfus, the difference between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive never been clearer than through Lisboa. Priaulx would slipstream the Alfa on the long straight whereby Farfus would defend on the inside. The front wheel drive Alfa being the understeering bitch that it is was super slow through Lisboa. You can see Priaulx brake later and turn in a lot quicker than the Alfa. Twice, Farfus was so slow through the turn that Priaulx would bump into him, creating a sizeable dent on the Alfa's rump by the end of the race.

Another surprise was that the Alfa was visibly slower through the ultra quick Mandarin curve than Priaulx's BMW, thus allowing the Englishman to slipstream him going into Lisboa. However, the Alfa was surprisingly just as quick in the twisty hillside section as the BMW.

Giovanardi crashed out in race 1. The race was won by Farfus with Priaulx coming in second. In race 2 and with the top 8 starting in reverse order, it was the BMW of three time Macau winner Duncan Huisman that went into the lead after a storming start. Priaulx had to fight from seventh and managed to overtake a number of SEATs and Chevrolets along the way to another second spot. He was catching up to Duncan as well towards the end and in fact made a move going into Lisboa. He tried again on the final lap but yellow flags at Lisboa stopped his attempt. Duncan was fortunate. On the last lap he brushed the guardrails at Resevoir bend two corners from the end but he manageed to hold on and win his fourth Macau Grand Prix. Lucky bastard. In my view Duncan is overrated and if not for the grid reversal wouldn't have had a look in.

Dirk Muller retired from the race and Priaulx was crowned 2005 World Touring Car Champion. Andy Priaulx really deserved this crown for all his speed and commitment. Here was the guy who in 1997 after a lacklustre Formula 3 season with little prospects for the future, fought his way over the years to be ETCC and WTCC champion. He's also confirmed as a works BMW driver for the next two years. Another nice to see was Racing Bart Mampaey's triumph over mighty Schnitzer. Both are works BMW teams running under the banner of BMW Team UK and Deutschland respectively. But I should think Schnitzer is more "works" than little Racing Bart Mampaey.

I confess to have missed the F3 race except for the start of race 1. Loic Duval in Dallara Mercedes qualified on pole and was absolutely running away with it. The Dallara Mercedes is actually Lewis Hamilton's F3 Euroseries race car and Loic used it to good effect. This prompted the commentators to wonder whether Lewis Hamilton's performances this year was actually more of a result of a superior machine as opposed rather than his driving talent. Unsurprisingly, Loic took race 1.

In race 2, Loic jumped the start was forced to make a stop and go penalty. This allowed Luca di Grassi to win it from Robert Kubica. These two came in third and second respectively last year. However, the most impressive performance came from a certain Sebastien Vettel who finished third in this, his first visit to Macau. This lad, only 18 years old has won the ADAC Formula BMW championship by taking 18 of 20 rounds, earning him a Williams test. This year he's in the Formula 3 Euroseries. For a lad's first time in Macau, his third place is excellent. By comparison, Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jr both were down in the mid twenties spot on their first visits.

Prior to this year, I've always had the impression of Macau being a very "purist" racing event. What I mean is that it had a Goodwood Festival of Speed atmosphere to it. I'm not so sure this year what with the WTCC throwing out a lot of competitors from the Guia race. Still, it was enjoyable to watch and with close competition between the Alfas BMWs and SEATs was actually much better than in previous years.

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