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Macau Grand Prix

From Senna to Schumacher, Macau Grand Prix officially recognised as the breeding ground for motor sport's top talent

The storied street race has officially been recognised as the breeding ground of champions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 1:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 9:23pm

The Macau Grand Prix has long held a reputation among fans for being an event that formally introduces motor sport’s rising stars to the world. That reputation is now the official line.

World motor sport’s governing body this week said handing the event ‘World Cup’ status in 2016 had formally recognised its historic role in helping to nurture talent, one that has over the decades seen the likes of legendary drivers Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher shine around the Guia Circuit as they took their first steps toward greatness.

Proof of the point is the fact that 15 of 22 registered Formula One drivers this year had previously raced around Macau’s tricky 6.2-kilometre street circuit.

“FIA World Cup status affirms the Macau Grand Prix as the ultimate end of year showcase for single-seater motor sport talent from around the world,” said Frederic Bertrand, FIA’s circuit championships director.

“It is recognition of the event’s standing as a star-finder, the place to see future household names before they graduate to Formula One, WEC, WTCC, Formula E or DTM.”

Coming as it does so close to the end of the year, Macau has always given Formula Three drivers an opportunity to kickstart their off-season celebrations – something last year’s winner Felix Rosenqvist could attest to as he arrived in town fresh from capturing the European Formula Three title, duly saluted the chequered flag, and then called for the champagne to start flowing.

“World Cup status also recognises that [Macau] is the one final shootout for the world’s best Formula Three drivers in an iconic location and on a demanding circuit – and naturally it is a nice fit with [Macau’s] FIA GT World Cup, which has a similar intention,” said Bertrand.

“Perhaps most importantly, it recognises the iconic position that Macau has, as a real focal point on the single-seater ladder.”

The countdown to this year’s November 17 to 20 edition of the Macau Grand Prix has officially begun, and the main event has attracted what could well be its strongest field ever, with three former champions returning, including Rosenqvist.

The 24-year-old Swedish sensation is looking to become the first-ever three-time winner of the Formula Three race, having won the past two editions, and last month said he “can’t wait” to return, this time around making a guest appearance for SJM Theodore Racing by Prema.

“Just saying the words “Macau” and “Formula 3” brings a smile to my face, so I’m absolutely thrilled to be racing there once again this year,” said Rosenqvist.

“It’s the one race in the world that has had the greatest impact on me and my career, and when the prospect of doing it again with came up, it was simply too tempting an opportunity.”

Also heading back to Macau are 2011 winner Daniel Juncadella (Hitech GP) and the 2012 champion Antonio Felix da Costa (Carlin), while in the FIA GT World Cup two-time winner Maro Engel (Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy) is taking a break from his Formula E commitments to try for a hat-trick of victories.

“It’s an honour and a privilege coming to Macau as the defending champion so I’m feeling very positive and motivated,” Engel said.

“I think there will be a lot of strong competition as always, my teammate Renger van der Zande, surely also [three-time winner Edoardo] Mortara and his teammates and probably quite a few others. But we have prepared very well and the aim is to defend our title.”

Adding to the excitement this year is the fact that the Suncity Group Motorcycle Grand Prix celebrates its 50th edition, and welcomes back last year’s winner Peter Hickman, eight-time winner Michael Rutter, and four-time winner Stuart Easton.

Preparations so far have not been without their problems, the event having last month lost long-time Formula Three coordinator Barry Bland, who quit the event complaining about changes in its structure.

But Bertrand waved the matter away.

“Like many elements of the organisation of the Macau Grand Prix, Mr Bland’s role has been localised, which I think points to the strength and expertise of the local Macau people and the Macau Grand Prix Organising Committee,” he said. “The FIA is supporting this plan from a regulatory point-of-view.”

The focus, Bertrand said, was on extending the legacy of the event.

“With the Macau Grand Prix now hosting two FIA World Cups – F3 and GT – our intention is to work with the government and organisers to grow the event even more, and further enhance its reputation,” he said.

“The Macau Grand Prix is a race meeting that motor sport fans from around the world view as a must-see event and drivers see as a must-race event – a real highlight on the calendar and a unique and exciting spectacle in its own right. The prestige of the two world titles adds another feather to the cap and we look forward to both World Cups continuing to grow in stature and reputation.”