This week sees the 49th running of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix and the cream of road racing will again be heading to the Far East venue to pit their wits against the challenging Guia Circuit.
Often seen as an end of season ‘holiday’ race, an opportunity for riders to head to warmer climbs and blow off some steam, it’s now anything but and whilst the first few days of race week still see the focus on enjoyment, come Thursday’s first practice session, it’s as serious as any other road race during the year.
A little history:
First run in October 1954 as a club race for local motoring enthusiasts, that first year, for cars only, was held on a circuit that left much to be desired with officials noting “the back of the circuit is very bad – mostly dirt and loose sand.”
During the spring and early summer of 1955, that particular section of the circuit was closed to traffic so that its old cobbles could be dug up and replaced with asphalt. And in 1958, the circuit was reduced to its present length of 3.8 miles.
However, it wasn’t until 1967 that the first Motor Cycle Grand Prix took place and it was dominated by locals, Japan’s factory Yamaha rider Hiroshi Hasegawa taking the chequered flag as he completed the mammoth 30-lap race in a time of 1hr 53m34.00s.
It took until 1976 before the Japanese stranglehold was finally broken as British ace Chas Mortimer took victory (indeed, he was the first European to stand on the podium) and save for Sadao Asami’s hat-trick between 1978 and 1980, it’s been dominated by European, especially British, and American riders ever since.
It’s all going on:
Names like Mick Grant, Ron Haslam (a six-time winner), Kevin Schwantz and Steve Hislop have all stood on the rostrum and although the event now sees just a solitary race, as opposed to being decided over two legs, it’s still as popular as it’s always been. The Formula Three and World Touring Cars may be seen as the premier events during the week but the locals certainly turn out in force to watch the two wheel heroes.
Most dangerous circuit:
The racing is now as fiercely fought as ever despite the fact the circuit is, arguably, the most dangerous on the calendar. Race speeds may be considerably down to other meetings – the lap record currently stands at just over 95mph – but nowhere are the obstacles so close and if ever the phrase ‘no margin for error’ was apt, then it’s at Macau.
The entire 3.8-miles are lined either side by one of two things – stainless steel Armco or solid brick walls. Gravel trips and run-off simply do not exist in Macau with many riders saying riding the course is like threading the eye of the needle. Precision and smooth riding are key and a look at the record books will see previous race winners armed with those skills.
Who’s back this year?
The usual suspects are all back for another go in 2015, especially Michael Rutter, Stuart Easton, Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness, and you probably don’t need to look beyond these four for your race winner..
Rutter is the most successful rider in the history of the event with eight wins and 15 podiums since his debut in 1994. Although he hasn’t won for the last two years, he’s still been on the rostrum and it’s highly likely that he’ll be back there again on Saturday. For the first time at Macau, he’ll be BMW-mounted.
Arguably the strongest threat comes from 2014 winner Easton who now has four wins to his name, including hat-trick between 2008 and 2010. Last year saw him lap over two seconds a lap quicker than anyone else although he’s had a late switch of both teams and machine riding an R1 Yamaha now for Robin Croft’s SMT team after parting company with the Paul Bird Motorsport team.
Another potential race winner comes in the shape of Hutchinson. A hat-trick winner at this year’s TT, Hutchy took a fairytale comeback victory at Macau in 2013, and he’ll want to give PBM Kawasaki another victory and end their partnership in the best possible manner.
Taking to the podium:
The last of the former Macau winners riding this year is McGuinness (Honda) and, unlike previous year’s, he has his TT winning machine at his disposal. Always smooth, always fast and always consistent, it was back in 2001 that he graced the top step at Macau but a total of eight podiums show he’ll be in the mix.
Other riders who will be in with a chance of the podium include McGuinness’ team-mate Conor Cummins, second in 2009, Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles), Gary Johnson (Penz13.Com BMW), Lee Johnston (East Coast Construction), Peter Hickman (Briggs Equipment), Jimmy Storrar (DMR Racing) and Austrian Horst Saiger.
So what do you think Macau 2015 has in store? Who will win? It’s time to cast your vote…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.