Familiarity breeds success for persistent Winkelhock
By BRUCE MACDONALD in Macau
JOACHIM Winkelhock rounded out a marathon year of motor racing with probably the sweetest victory of his distinguished career in the Guia Touring Car race yesterday afternoon.
Seven times Winkelhock has journeyed to this Portuguese enclave seeking success as both a Formula Three and touring car driver.
And on each occasion bad luck, accidents or engine failure contrived to deny him victory but yesterday there was no way the slightly built German was to be denied his ultimate reward.
This time it was the misfortune of one of his rivals which left the way open for him to finally stand high above his rivals on the winner's podium.
Driving a San Miguel BMW Motorsport-Team Schnitzer 318i, Winkelhock set the pace in both 15-lap heats to seal a one-two for his team. Briton Steve Soper came home second a little over seven seconds behind the flying German on aggregate.
While Winkelhock was savouring his fully deserved victory, Briton Anthony Reid driving a HKS Racing Opel Vectra was left to wonder what might have been but for a tiny electrical fault.
Pole-sitter Reid stunned the pundits here by qualifying ahead of a gaggle of BMW 318is and from the moment the starter's flag fell in brilliant sunshine yesterday afternoon Reid stormed clear of his 28 rivals.
He led Soper to the infamous Lisboa Corner, the graveyard for scores of cars over the years in Macau. In fact Soper clipped the barrier as he desperately sought to seize the initiative from his compatriot.
But Reid's bid for an unlikely triumph in the Guia Race was over one lap later when an electrical connection deprived his engine of spark and the group of BMW 318is stormed by.
Filling third spot behind the two BMW 318is was Macau regular Tom Kristensen driving an Energizer-TOMS Toyota Corona, nearly one minute off the pace. Fourth was 1989 Guia Race winner Tim Harvey in a Motorola Pagers Racing Team BMW 318i followed by the third of the San Miguel cars driven by Hong Kong hero and winner of the race last year, Charles Kwan.
It was a great drive by the semi-professional Kwan who was mixing it with the world's best touring car drivers.
But he did have his compensations, winning two supporting races during the two-day extravaganza of motorsport.
Kristensen upset what could have been an amazing result for the BMW marque. Five of the top six finishers were 318is.
Reid's bad luck aside, Winkelhock produced a consummate performance.
It's not as if Winkelhock is short on driving practice this season. He has competed in an amazing 45 races spanning the globe, the busiest year he has ever experienced since racing professionally.
'Winning in Macau is the victory I have wanted for many years now but for one reason or another it has eluded me,' he said.
'Two-thirds of the way through the second leg my tyres were wearing and the car started to suffer understeer.
'With Steve pushing me so hard I touched the barriers a couple of times,' he added.
Soper was angered by a suggestion that he hung back to hand Winkelhock the race.
'I object to that suggestion. Ask Jo, I pushed him all the way,' Soper said.
Reid further underlined the potential of the Open Vectra in the second leg of the race when he took his place in the field from the back of the grid.
From a field of 18 cars Reid was up to ninth by the end of the first lap and seventh before the second when Mashahiro Hasemi locked his brakes and shunted his Nissan into Fisherman's Bend.
After the restart following Hasemi's crash, Reid was up to fourth by lap seven and snapping at the heels of third-placed man Kristensen who piloted an F3 car to second place last year.
Kristensen was relegated to fourth place under brakes into Lisboa Bend on lap eight as Reid set his sights on the leading pair.
But the ice-cool Winkelhock reeled off a sizzling best lap of two minutes 33.86 seconds to snuff whatever faint hopes Reid may have entertained of catching the two leading BMWs.
All credit to Reid, he pushed right to the finish and was only 8.07 seconds in arrears of the leading pair.
Winkelhock's emphatic victory took on even greater importance for him and his team in the context of the inaugural Asia-Pacific Touring Car Championship of which Macau is the second leg.
The German was the points leader after the first round at Mt Fuji earlier this month and carries a virtually insurmountable lead into the third and final round at Wellington, New Zealand in two weeks' time.