COVER STORY

Fast times guaranteed on and off the Guia Circuit at the Macau Grand Prix

Macau Grand Prix's 60th anniversary means thrills both on and off the track, writes Mathew Scott

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 11:53pm

YOU HAVE TO wonder what Eduardo de Carvalho would make of it if the Portuguese driver could hop in his old Triumph sports car and drive around Macau as it is today.

Sixty years ago, De Carvalho was the toast of the town, the first winner of the grand prix that celebrates its diamond anniversary this weekend and next, with activities on and off the famed Guia Circuit.

De Carvalho's moment of glory came after local motoring enthusiasts thought they'd plan a treasure hunt. They ended up with the Macau Grand Prix.

It's amazing how far the race - and the city - has come in the six decades since. The Grand Prix has established itself as a testing ground for future champions, with the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher having tackled and won the event before going on to be crowned world Formula One champions.

The city has evolved from a quaint and relatively quiet Portuguese-administered enclave into one of the fastest growing tourism, entertainment and, of course, gaming destinations in the world.

Development continues at an astonishing rate, fuelled by casinos that add about 95 billion patacas (HK$90.5 billion) to the coffers and attract about 28 million tourists annually.

The Macau Grand Prix is still a drawcard, attracting about 65,000 spectators each year and injecting US$5 million into the economy. For lovers of high-octane fun, there are few events like it.

As Macau gears up for two weekends of 60th anniversary celebrations on November 9 and 10 and 16 and 17,  48 Hours asks the experts for the inside line on how to best enjoy the event.

 

A taste for racing

The locals will immediately tell you that what sets Macau apart from the rest is its unique cuisine that combines the very best of the city's Asian and European influences.

"Apart from the gambling fever, Macau is also known for its food," says Macau-born driver Rodolfo Avila. "If you come here you need to try the best Portuguese cuisine in Asia, and you have plenty of restaurants to choose from."

Avila's recommendations include: A Petisqueira, 15 Rua de S. Joao, Taipa, tel: +853 2882 5354, which is one of his favourites; O Santos, 20 Rua de Cunha, Taipa, tel: +853 2882 5594; Restaurante Litoral, 261A Rua do Almirante Sergio, Macau, tel: +853 2896 7878; Fernando's, 9 Praia de Hac Sa, Coloane, tel: +853 2888 2264; and the Clube Militar de Macau, 975 Avenida da Praia Grande, Macau, tel: +853 2871 4004.

Over the decades the Pizzeria Toscana, (G/F, 2A Calcada da Barra, Cheong Seng Building, Macau, tel: +853 2872 6637 has become a favoured haunt for drivers and their teams. Although it is no longer in its original, prime location in the building above the pits, Toscana's loyal clients are prepared to travel to its current location near the A-Ma Temple.

"It's still popular with the racing crowd and has photographs of past customers adorning the walls, which pretty much includes every Grand Prix winner from the past couple of decades," says Huxley.

To coincide with the Grand Prix celebrations, the 13th Macau Food Festival takes place at the Sai Van Lake Square. Hundreds of eateries will take up residence at the foot of the Macau Tower between November 8 and 24.

After eating like a champion, if you want to see some of your racing dreams realised, Avila recommends you head to the Macau Grand Prix Museum (Basement, Tourism Activities Centre, 431 Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes, tel: +853 8798 4108).

"If you are a petrol head I really recommend you visit. You can see some of the beauties that have raced the Guia Circuit in the past and test your own skills around the circuit in the race simulator."

 

That winning feeling

"The reason people keep coming back to Macau is not just because it's arguably the world's greatest race track, with an informality and accessibility that sets it apart from Formula One, but also because of the after hours action that makes Macau famous," says Tim Huxley.

He has seen enough racing here to know. This will be the 25th year Huxley has been trackside at Macau and the 14th time he's helped enter drivers in the event's major races with the GR Asia team.

"With such an early start each day [7.30am], don't expect to be bumping into racing folk in the bars, nightclubs and casinos early in the weekend," he says.

But with many stars of yesteryear returning for the anniversary, Huxley says there will be an additional buzz this year.

And the city is certainly attempting to cater for everyone's needs, with a host of racing-themed events spread across both weekends to highlight Macau's best.

If you know the right people, private members club China Rouge (G/F Galaxy Macau, Cotai, tel: +853 2888 0888) is throwing an exclusive Grand Prix Party on November 15 to celebrate the 60th anniversary.

The club's management promises that "guests and glitterati can rub shoulders with racing legends".

"It makes perfect sense to host the elite of the Grand Prix world here for a roaring party that encapsulates the excitement of an incredibly compelling weekend of competition," says Noel Furrer, the club's executive manager.

Expect "world-class entertainment, featuring a live band, signature shows and other surprises".

Race organisers have meanwhile decided to make full use of the city's spectacular Senado Square on the same night for a three-hour Macau Grand Prix Rock Festival, starting at 7.30pm. The seven-band line-up features the likes of Lavy, Fall to Fly and Hong Kong's Dear Jane.

And if the racing isn't enough to satisfy your need for speed, The Venetian Macao (Cotai Expo Hall C, Estrada da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, Taipa, tel: +853 2882 8818) has enlisted the help of Japan's D1 high-octane drifting team.

Drifting involves two cars racing each other on an oval circuit where the vehicles appear to "drift" as they avoid each other and the walls.

The exhibition series takes place at 6pm and 9pm, November 15-17. Tickets are HK$200 from cotaiticketing.com.

The races are part of The Venetian's line-up for the Grand Prix, which includes classic cars and a "racing car culture" expo.

 

Eyes on the prize

Dr Philip Newsome has not missed a Macau Grand Prix since 1985. With two books marking the 40th and 50th anniversaries on the shelves, Newsome has prepared a new publication for the race's 60th edition. It will be released on the eve of the great race.

Over the years, the 60-year-old self-confessed motorsports fanatic has seen the Grand Prix from every angle imaginable. The first piece of advice he offers to anyone looking to get the best view as events unfold is to keep things simple.

"The obvious choice is the Lisboa stand," he says. "The combination of a long straight topped off by a tight right-hander usually means lots of drivers coming together, or overcooking it here. Lisboa has pretty much been the graveyard of many aspiring drivers' dreams."

If you really want to feel what it's like to be in the thick of the action when the starter's flag falls, Newsome suggests soaking up the atmosphere near the pit lane. "Head to the stand opposite the pits, especially for the start of the GP and all the noise and excitement. You can also see what is happening in the pits."

When pressed to reveal his secrets, Newsome says there is one spot the die-hards are drawn to and it offers the amateur photographer something special.

"Places to watch the GP free of charge these days are few and far between, but there is a footpath that winds high above the track on the inland section of the track overlooking Maternity bend," he says.

"This allows you to look down on the circuit and also gives a great panoramic view of the track against a backdrop of the rest of Macau."

48hours@scmp.com

 

Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen