Macau puts brakes on first Asian race series

THE establishment of Asia's first touring car championship was dealt a serious blow yesterday when the organisers of the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix pulled out of the series.

''Macau will not be taking part,'' chairman of the Macau Grand Prix organising committee, Engineer Joao Manuel Costa Antunes said yesterday.

''Instead, we will switch to concentrating all our energies on making our Guia [touring car] Race the best we have staged,'' he added.

Costa Antunes was reluctant to cite specific reasons for the pull-out, but said: ''With no warranty as to how many participants will stay in the championship we didn't want to jeopardise the standing of the Macau event.'' Plans began 18 months ago to establish an Asia-Pacific Touring Car Championship and Costa Antunes was elected chairman of a steering committee to get the event off the ground.

Representatives of tracks from India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Macau sat down to thrash out a plan to co-ordinate Asia's first international touring car championship.

The executive officer of the Hongkong Automobile Association and long-time clerk-of-the-course at Macau, Phil Taylor, was drafted in to provide technical expertise and act as the official link between the organisers and FISA, motorsport's governing body.

The plan was enthusiastically backed by a number of leading European car manufacturers who pledged to campaign works teams in the events.

But as the months dragged on, representatives from the various tracks were unable to agree on a wide range of issues involving sponsorship, advertising and television rights.

A New Zealand-based company, Promo Marketing International, organisers of the Wellington Street Race, was given the task of co-ordinating the series.

Sensing that Promo Marketing International were having trouble getting all the track promoters to agree, the Macau organisers sought the support of England-based Motor Race Consultants Ltd, the company which organises the drivers for the Formula Three event in the Portuguese enclave.

MRC director, Barry Bland, confirmed yesterday that his company had been approached ''to do some homework'' on the basis of ''maybe taking over'' the organising of the series.

''There appeared to be very little interest and a lack of information coming through and MRC turned this around,'' Bland said.

Bland said like Promo Marketing International, his company lodged a proposal with the organising committee on July 1 to co-ordinate the series.

''But we withdrew when we heard Promo Marketing had signed up the Madras (India) and Shah Alam (Malaysia) tracks,'' Bland added.

The involvement of Macau is critical to the viability of the Asia-Pacific series.

It is the oldest and most well-established race meeting in the Asian region and this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.

With a live potential viewing audience of 200 million people via a new deal with China Central Television, Macau is a prime advertising medium for would-be sponsors.

Macau has been at the vanguard of getting the series off the ground with Costa Antunes the only member of the organising committee to have attended every meeting since it was formed 18 months ago.

''I personally feel that what has been done [to organise the series] has not been enough,'' said Costa Antunes.

''We still haven't reached a position after all these meetings where the series can realistically go ahead.

''It is too late now,'' he added.

But Costa Antunes was adamant the concept remained a good one. ''Macau will be hoping the series can be staged next year.'' The series is scheduled to begin on October 24 in Madras then switch to Shah Alam in Malaysia a week later.

Indonesia's new Formula One-standard track at Sentul, near Jakarta, was scheduled to stage the third leg on November 7 and that would have been followed by Macau on November 21.

The series was then to move south to the Phillip Island circuit in Victoria, Australia on November 28 followed by Wellington, New Zealand on December 5.

It was to end at the Pattaya circuit in Thailand on December 19.

Costa Antunes said the series may well still go ahead in an amended form but he said that many problems still remained.

''But one thing is certain, if it does go ahead it will be without Macau,'' he added.