Each autumn, speed freaks flock to Macau for the ultimate adrenaline rush – the Macau Grand Prix. It offers a buzz and excitement that translate into big business for Macau this November.
Organisers claim the street-circuit event featuring both cars and motorcycles gets hundreds of millions of viewers each year, raising awareness of Macau as a travel destination. It’s also a big deal for city authorities, who get to show off their organisational capabilities.
While the Formula 3 race is considered the flagship event, perhaps the most thrilling of all the spectacles during the race weekend is the Motorcycle Grand Prix – also known as the Moto GP. Compounding this excitement is the danger: the two-wheeled, 1,000cc monster machines offer riders little protection compared with even the most stripped-down car.
Perhaps it is this that makes the Macau Grand Prix stand out from other championships around the world. Danny Horne, the head technician at Dafabet Devitt RC Express Racing, certainly agrees.
“The Macau GP experience is unique in so many ways,” he says. “The main factor is the variety of race series on show, from Formula 3 to GT cars to motorcycles – this just doesn’t happen anywhere else.
“The glamour and prestige of the Macau GP is out there on its own when you look down the past winners in the Macau Grand Prix Museum [on Rua de Luis Gonzaga Gomes].
“When all this is combined with the amazing history of Macau, alongside the ultra-modern hotels, casinos, and infrastructure, then the Macau GP is one of the most unique events on the race calendar.”
Horne’s rider this year is Ivan Lintin, who joined RC Express Racing in 2014. In 2017, the team became Dafabet Devitt.
“I have raced every season since 2006,” says Lintin, from Lincolnshire in England. “I always liked racing as my father used to race – I got dragged around to race meetings. But I didn’t have the urge to race seriously till I was 21.”
So what are his prospects this year? “We will be battling with multiple winners,” Lintin says. “[Eight-time Macau Moto GP winner] Michael Rutter, [two-time Macau winner and reigning champion] Peter Hickman and [two-time Macau runner-up] Martin Jessopp will all be battling for the podium this year.”
These big names all have one thing in common. Since 1998, every winner of the Macau GP has been British – an incredible run that Horne says can be attributed to the number of road, rather than track, racing events in and around Britain, not least the Isle of Man circuit.
It seems likely that the British will continue to dominate, but American rider Brandon Cretu is not put off. He aims to make an impression this year, and it seems there’s little that can bring the Pennsylvania native down.
Cretu is determined to compete in Macau this year after disappointment in 2016, when organisers cut the field from 32 riders to 28. “I was one of the unfortunate ones that didn’t make the grid due to underperforming at the GP in 2015,” he says.
“I still love the event. I have been racing in the FIM Endurance World Championships [a series of endurance races held at four circuits around the world during 2017] and my riding is better than ever.”
However, the most formidable challenger, and one that everyone gets to face, is Macau’s daunting Guia circuit.
As Lintin says: “The Macau Grand Prix is unique. The circuit is very challenging because there is no run-off [extra sections of track where riders are likely to go off the track owing to difficult corners], it has both a fast flowing section and a twisty back section.
“The back twister bit of the circuit all looks the same because of the yellow Armco [safety barrier] reference points you use, which become harder to find [as the race goes on]. This is what makes it the most challenging place we race at.”
Cretu also has nothing but respect for the infamous circuit. “There is zero room for error,” he says, “and it provides for exciting racing for the fans.
“I truly believe that everyone likes the car racing at Macau, but the bikes are what everyone waits to see.”
Cretu says there’s another unseen aspect of Moto GP that makes it stand out.
“I love the camaraderie in the paddock between the riders and the teams, it’s like a big family,” he says. “We compete during the day, but at night we’re all out together for food and drinks. Other events are not like that.” So it’s not all blood, sweat and fears then.
“I love the city and the friends I have made there over the years,” Cretu adds. “I really enjoy the less-seen areas of Macau such as Coloane, and visiting some of the great local restaurants.”
One can’t help but feel that, unlike the flamboyant, money-saturated world of Formula 1, the Moto GP community has an amicable, even familial feel to it. People who are fierce competitors on the track are often good friends off it. They aren’t here because their sport will turn them into billionaires – indeed, it likely won’t.
Crucially, they’re here simply because they love it. This might not be so fashionable in the backbiting world of reality TV and the celebrity temper tantrum – but that can only be a good thing.