This week sees the final road race of the 2019 season take place with the 53rd running of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix seeing 28 riders, including four previous winners, pit their wits against the Armco-lined circuit.
Reigning champion and three-time winner Peter Hickman heads the entry once more with practice and qualifying taking place on Thursday and Friday and the 12-lap race itself due to get underway at 7.55am (GMT) on Saturday.
Man to beat
Victor in 2015, 2016 and 2018, Hickman will ride his regular Smiths Racing-prepared BMW S1000RR at the meeting, riding on this occasion under the MGM by Bathams Racing banner.
Having already won Superbike races at the Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix this year, as well as tasting Superstock success at the North West 200, the 32-year old has established himself as the man to beat on the roads and will be hoping to make it a clean sweep of International road race victories at Macau.
Fresh from another successful British Superbike Championship campaign, where he made the Showdown with Smiths Racing for a third consecutive year, eventually finishing sixth overall, Hickman has taken racing on the roads to a new level particularly at the TT and Ulster GP where he has shattered the outright lap records and taken no less than 14 race wins these past two seasons.
He’s adapted to the challenges of Macau equally as quickly and with three wins and a second place in the past four years, it’s hard to see anyone getting the better of him in the Far East this week.
However, one rider who will be aiming to do exactly that and who, arguably, has the best chance will be his team-mate and record eight-time winner Michael Rutter who made his debut at the event all the way back in 1994 some 20 years before Hickman sampled it for the first time!
The West Midlands rider, who has recently brought out his autobiography, has since gone on to become the most successful rider in the history of the Macau GP taking a record eight wins, the first of which came in 1998. He’s also taken 19 podiums which is also comfortably more than any other rider.
He lines up in the same team as Hickman for the fourth year in a row and will again campaign the Honda RC213V having ridden it for the first time on the 3.8 mile circuit 12 months ago. However, although he’s won the aforementioned eight races, he hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since 2012 and getting the better of Hickman will be a tall order.
Second last year, the now 47-year old will be looking to do just that though in his 25th year of competing at Macau although he’ll also be mindful of the fact there are numerous other riders who have every chance of standing on the podium too.
Further opposition will undoubtedly be provided by the other two former race winners on the entry, road racing legends Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness.
Hutchinson, who took a sensational victory on a Milwaukee Yamaha on his comeback to racing in November 2013, after 18 months out of the sport, makes his return to the event for the first time since 2016. However, rather than Honda Racing, who he’s ridden with on the roads for the last two seasons, he’ll be BMW mounted this time around riding for Team Milwaukee by SMT Racing.
A joint venture between SMT’s Robin Croft and Shaun Muir, whose SMR team now run BMW’s World Superbike effort, Hutchinson recently tested the S1000RR at Donington Park and although he hasn’t competed since the TT in June, he’s back to full fitness and raring to go once more.
Having yet to announce his plans for the 2020 season, it’s a golden opportunity to remind the racing world of his talents and the same applies to 2001 Macau GP winner McGuinness, who will be reunited with Paul Bird’s Ducati team for the second year in a row, this time riding the Ducati Panigale V4R.
Amazingly, he’s only taken one Macau win but he does have eight podiums to his name, the second highest total behind Rutter, although he’s yet to feature in the top three since, surprisingly, 2008. Injuries have resulted in him only contesting one Macau race since 2015, finishing tenth last year, and it will be hard work for the Morecambe Missile to crack the top three this time round.
Strength in depth
As expected, there’s strength in depth on the entry list with many of road racing’s usual suspects heading to the Far East once more and McGuinness will be joined at Paul Bird Motorsport by Aussie David Johnson who lines up with the Cumbrian team for the first time.
He’s had a great season in 2019, taking his maiden podium finish at the TT, when he finished third in the Superstock race, before going on to win the Superbike Classic TT and he’ll be more than hopeful of improving upon his previous best finish at Macau which was a seventh place last year.
A formidable pairing lines up at Ashcourt Racing with regular rider Lee Johnston riding a 2019-spec BMW S1000RR as the Halifax-based rider returns to Macau after missing last year’s meeting. He too has had a superb year winning at both the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT, the latter for the first time, as well as adding his name to the Scarborough Gold Cup so clearly cannot be ruled out.
He’s joined by regular Macau GP visitor Gary Johnson with the Lincolnshire rider having taken an impressive eight top five finishes since 2009, including third in 2013. Fifth last year, he’s been an almost ever-present in the top six for a decade now and, after a spell away from the limelight at the International road races, he has a great chance of getting back onto the podium.
Another rider who’ll certainly be challenging for the podium despite it just being his second Macau appearance will be rising star Davey Todd. Ninth on his debut last year, Todd will again ride for the MGM by Penz13 BMW team who he’s been with all year, taking podiums at both the North West 200 and Ulster GP as well as winning the International Road Race Championship. He also enjoyed a superb TT campaign and the progress of the sport’s hottest property will be eagerly watched.
Privateers on parade.
As always, the entry is packed with some of Britain and Ireland’s finest privateers and Dafabet Devitt Racing will again field Paul Jordan and Dominic Herbertson on a pair of Kawasaki ZX-10RR’s and they’re joined by Phil Crowe, Sam West, Craig Neve, Rob Hodson and Davy Morgan.
Derek Sheils, eighth last year, should again be the leading competitor from Southern Ireland on his regular Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Suzuki, but he’s ably backed up by Michael Sweeney, Brian McCormack and Steve Heneghan.
As always there’s a strong contingent of riders from mainland Europe with Horst Saiger expected to be the most prominent on his R1 Yamaha, the Austrian having taken a best finish of fifth just three years ago.
German Didier Grams is another rider more than capable of finishing in the top ten with leading Finnish rider Erno Kostamo, tipped for a TT debut in 2020, back for a second time as part of the MGM by Penz13 team where he’ll also be joined by Canadian Dan Kruger.
The Czech Republic’s Marek Cerveny, Frenchman Xavier Denis, Portugal’s Andre Pires and Spain’s Raul Torras Martinez complete the strong line-up in what is expected to be another fiercely contested race.
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 Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. 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.