Mr Safety hangs up his helmet, but 43-year love affair with Macau continues | South China Morning Post
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  • Feb 1, 2015
  • Updated: 5:15pm

Mr Safety hangs up his helmet, but 43-year love affair with Macau continues

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am
 

For the first time in 43 years, Klaus Doerr can watch the Macau Grand Prix and relax. He spent his first 10 meetings pumped up to win races on the Guia circuit, and for the remaining 33 he has been revving along it to save lives as chief of the rescue and safety team.

That era came to a close by mutual agreement last year, Doerr said, when the organisers retired him and his handpicked crew, to train up a new team of local drivers, paramedics and doctors.

Like many retired sportsmen, the 69-year-old German says he will miss the exhilaration of the sport, but expressed no misgivings about being just another face in the crowd.

'It wasn't bad news,' Doerr says. 'We knew for some time this localisation would happen. For some years now, the Macau government has followed their localisation policy, dealing with the many different postings in race control and around the track.

'We were all getting a bit long in the tooth. We knew our time was coming to an end, and we thought, 'Let's hand it back to them'.'

Other ageing competitors and officials might say retirement could be a relief from the mounting pressure of competing in a young people's game. Doerr has, after all, stepped down from a sport in which speedy reactions can mean make the difference between life and death on one of the most demanding race tracks in the world.

The 6.2km Guia circuit's tortuous twists and 260km/h straights have tested the best - and cost others their lives.

'The whole track, by its natural layout, is a black spot,' Doerr says. 'There isn't a safe moment where you can put your feet up, as there are no run-off areas.

'You put your heart in your hand and go down the straight with a prayer. It's a dicey track and at speeds similar to the Monaco Grand Prix.'

He should know. Born in Bonn, Doerr first came to the Guia circuit as a motor vehicle technician in 1964. Four years later, he drove his first race there, in a Porsche 911S, and competed regularly in local events.

'We did hill climbs, cross-country, slaloms, rallies and sprints, mostly in modified VW Beetles and Porsches, all over the colony, including Hong Kong island. It was possible and very popular in those days.' He also raced around the region, but the Guia circuit was always special.

By 1974 Doerr, sought an alternative to active racing, without leaving his beloved sport.

'At that time, fast rescue-safety intervention cars had just made their first appearance on European circuits,' he said. 'Since the Macau race track does not have inner or outer service roads, all rescuing and assistance has to be done by driving on the actual track, very often during a race in progress. Rescue cars had to be fast, well-equipped for emergencies and driven by a knowledgable driver who would know all aspects of racing and behaviour on a race track.'

So Doerr, by now a successful luxury car dealer, approached the Macau organisers to perform the role and was accepted. Over the years, his safety team grew.

Doerr and his teammates - Dave Monty, John Rolfe, Tom Wilson, David Reid, Richard Merrill and Syd Ward - also acted as the 'on the scene eyes of the clerk of the course', by being in constant radio contact with the control tower.

Like many rescuers, Doerr doesn't like to talk about specific incidents, and that his team's heroics were 'part of the job'.

'There were huge pile-ups, when one feared the worst,' he says. 'Big fires involving several cars threatening to melt down the track. Arriving at the scene of an accident and initially failing to locate the driver or rider involved. Amazingly, most pile-ups, fires and other incidents looked worse than they turned out to be.'

Now based in Andalusia, Spain, Doerr no longer drives, except to the shops.

'I'm enjoying my retirement with my wife, taking care of the large property and I do a lot of travelling,' he said.

Macau Grand Prix organisers expressed their gratitude to Doerr and his team.

'We would like to thank Mr Doerr and his team for their valuable contribution to the Macau Grand Prix, and for the important contribution in the training of the new team, thereby ensuring the standards of professionalism are maintained in this important role,' they said.

Doerr will probably watch his successors' every move. The veteran may have hung up his helmet, but you can bet the adrenalin of the Lisboa Corner will always red-line in his heart.

In safe hands

The years Klaus Doerr has been the man looking after driver safety on the treacherous circuit: 33

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