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Macau Grand Prix

Chinese Ferrari Academy driver Zhou Guanyu looking to make his mark at Macau Grand Prix

First Chinese racer to join Ferrari Driver Academy looks to Macau – and to history

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 8:05pm

There’s no escaping history for Zhou Guanyu.

The first Chinese driver to join the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy looks around him every day during training and is reminded that it was in this programme that the talents of Formula One drivers Jules Bianchi and Sergio Perez were nurtured before they were released on the world, and that he is supported by the team that was graced – some might say blessed – by the presence of Juan Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher.

“To be in the Ferrari family is a dream come true,” says the 17-year-old. “I just want to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.”

The next one of those opportunities is looming at the Macau Grand Prix from November 17 to 20, when the Shanghai-born youngster will hit the Guia Circuit for the first time, driving for the Motopark team.

Zhou says he is well aware of the past and of the greats who have come before him. Macau prides itself on the fact it has been able to attract the very best and the streets echo with the exploits of the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.

It’s an event that has loomed large in Zhou’s dreams, ever since his father took him as an eight-year-old to a karting track outside Shanghai and first sat him behind the wheel. Zhou has been trackside in Macau for the past two editions of the big race, soaking up the atmosphere, and he says he is well aware of what’s in store.

“Every driver knows that Macau is the hardest track to drive,” says Zhou, speaking from the Red Bull Ring track in Austria. “Every corner you drive next to a wall. There is no room for any errors. I know there will be lots of incidents, for sure. It will be tough because it’s my first time, and a lot of drivers have raced there many times before. But I will do my best – I am hoping to finish top 10.”

Zhou will arrive in Macau from his first full season in the European F3 championship, where he finished 13th for Motopark. That followed a 2015 season that saw the young talent finish runner-up for Prema Powerteam in the Italian F4 Championship, and Zhou says he has jumped at every chance offered to continue to collect the experience needed to constantly mix it with the best in the sport.

Just last month, Zhou could be caught picking up every piece of advice offered by two-time Macau F3 champion Felix Rosenqvist as they tested for Prema in Austria. At Ferrari, too, the emphasis is on preparation – and Zhou says the days of training are long, but rewarding.

“I’ve had some good moments and some tough moments but overall I feel I am going in the right direction,” says Zhou. “When you are developing into a good driver you can’t just be fast. I’ve learned you have to have the right personality as well.”

Zhou is among the rising Chinese stars to come under the mentorship of Ma Qinghua, the country’s most successful driver, having become the first to win an FIA World Championship race when he captured a leg of the WTCC in Russia in 2014. Like Ma, he’s signed with the Shanghai-based Seca sports management group as motorsport continues to grow in the country.

Ma, too, has experience of the Guia Circuit, having most recently tackled the 2014 Guia Race of Macau – and Zhou will need all the insider’s tips available as he lines up in a field that includes the flying Swede Rosenqvist, gunning to become the first-ever three-time F3 winner, alongside other former champions in Daniel Juncadella and Antonio Felix da Costa.

The scale of the occasion has not been lost on the youngster. But he’s raring to get out there and go.

“This opportunity is amazing for me,” says Zhou. “I have been training hard in the gym because I know that physically I have to be in the best shape possible. To know I am going to race at such an historical track is such a good feeling. I know this year the field for Macau is the strongest field ever. We’ll have many experienced drivers there, but I will give everything I have.”