Madness, sadness as Macau gears up for grand prix

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am

Serious crashes in qualifying cast a shadow over the showcase event

Macau was the scene of madness tinged with sadness yesterday as it geared up for its annual grand prix.

There was madness as crowds filled every hotel room and spilled into the streets, bars, restaurants and casinos.

There was sadness as two motorcyclists lay in hospital - one with severe brain injuries - after hitting trackside barriers during preliminary rounds.

And apart from the usual 24-hour gambling frenzy in the casinos, there was punting of another sort as yet another company's share price shot skyward after announcing it was making a foray into the gaming business.

Austrian rider Erwin Wilding was fighting for his life after a horrifying crash on Thursday. He was joined in hospital yesterday by Briton Gus Scott, who broke his arm after crashing in a qualifying round.

'Everybody is going slower than last year,' US rider Geoff May said. 'I guess everyone was thinking about what happened to Wilding. A lot of us thought he was not going to make it. I hope he recovers.'

While many spectators said they were shocked and saddened by the accidents, Jude Wong, visiting from Hong Kong, said it was all part of motor racing. 'Accidents happen to show us how dangerous the sport is,' he said. 'It shows the drivers put 110 per cent effort into the qualifying races.'

Even away from the track, it was impossible to forget about the grand prix, which is expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors to Macau over the weekend. While the machines roar around the closed streets of the Guia circuit, traffic outside is gridlocked.

'What sets Macau apart is the street circuit,' said Tian Shucui, a racing fanatic from Guangzhou. 'So some roads have to be closed. What can we say?'

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed property developer Emperor (China Concept) Investments said it would change its name to Emperor Entertainment Hotel and convert its vacant commercial properties into a hotel/casino.

The company was rewarded with a 176 per cent rise in its share price from $7.80 when its shares were suspended early this month, to $21.55 at yesterday's close.

It mirrored an explosive recent rise in Macau counters which has seen shares linked to gambling and tourism soar as much as 250 per cent in a week.