Paul Poon's Macau win is bittersweet after friend's tragic death

Hong Kong driver fights back the tears to win on Macau circuit where pal died on Friday in crash

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 2:12am

Macau Grand Prix Touring Car Cup winner Paul Poon Tak-chun yesterday told how he put aside tears and fears to take the chequered flag after his friend and fellow driver Phillip Yau Wing-choi lost his life on Friday.

Yau died during qualifying for the race won by Poon when his Chevrolet crashed into a barrier.

The other members of the field, mostly amateurs and semi-pros from Macau and Hong Kong, returned to race yesterday, after organisers decided not to cancel the events despite two deaths in two days at the track.

However, they held a minute's silence before the Touring Car Cup as a mark of respect.

Poon, who won the race, admitted it was difficult to focus on his driving as he passed the Mandarin bend where his friend died.

"The first couple of laps, when we got to the bend where the accident happened, it was a little bit scary and we slowed down a bit," said the 41-year-old China Dragon Racing driver.

"I knew Phillip well. For 15 years, we raced against each other many times, more than I can count. But just one impact and he's gone, it's unbelievable. I've never experienced anything like this in my 15 years of racing and I hope it's the last time."

Poon said the mood around the paddock was one of utter incredulity as news came through of Yau's death, with drivers breaking down in tears.

"We were doing the qualifying and I was out on a lap and I went past his car at the accident before the red flag came out," he said. "After the qualifying, some guy told me he's gone. I just didn't believe it. The mood among the drivers was just shock. Some guys were crying, total shock."

On Thursday, motorbike rider Luis Carreira died after a crash.

However, bike racing is so dangerous deaths in the sport are almost taken for granted. Touring car racing, which involves heavily modified street cars, is by comparison a lot safer.

"It's very rare to have deaths in this sport," added Poon, who has been racing in Macau since 2001. "You get broken bones, broken arms and things like that. During past years, I've seen so many big accidents here - wheels flying everywhere - but the driver always walks out fine.

"Last night we had a Chinese traditional ceremony. I'm so sorry for his wife and family.

"I think the Hong Kong drivers will arrange something to commemorate his memory."

On Friday, organisers defended their decision not to cancel any of the weekend's remaining races. The prevailing feeling was motorsport is inherently dangerous, as all competitors know, and two deaths in successive days was a freak, tragic coincidence.

Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, co-ordinator of the Macau Grand Prix Committee, denied there were concerns over the track's safety or stewarding. Officials said Yau's car had passed all the requisite safety checks.

"In all motorsports there is always a challenge so when the teams and drivers start practising this sport they know the challenges in front of them," said Antunes when asked by the Sunday Morning Post what efforts the committee would make to ensure the event was safer in future.

"Our circuit has existed for 60 years and, of course, we have always followed all the guidelines in terms of security."

Standard investigations will be held into the two deaths.