BMW Motorrad Motorsport
Macau, China, 16/11/2016, BMW Road Race Challenge
The iconic Macau Grand Prix is one of the most famous road races in the world. This year, the event celebrates another milestone: on Saturday, the motorcyclists will race flat out between the crash barriers in the Asian gamblers’ paradise for the 50th time.
Each November, the streets of the former Portuguese colony of Macau – now a Chinese special administrative region – are transformed into a racetrack. The “Guia Circuit” is one of the most difficult street circuits in the world. The 6.115-kilometre track winds through the urban jungle that is Macau, always within millimetres of the crash barriers.
One person who knows Macau like the back of his hand is Rico Penzkofer. He has already competed in this iconic race 11 times with his Penz13.com team, including seven appearances as a rider. “It is the only track on which you are surrounded by nothing but walls and crash barriers. You could compare it to Monaco in Formula 1. It is the only race with that kind of flair. The fact that you are racing in such a huge metropolis makes it really unique,” says Penzkofer, discussing just what makes Macau so fascinating. “It is also very special for the road racers. That is why they so enjoy travelling there.”
Penzkofer believes that road racers, with their experience, are at an advantage on the narrow and demanding circuit: “On a racetrack, I can usually see an exit from a corner somewhere, or can focus on the kerb. That is not the case at all in Macau. The many walls, crash barriers and houses mean you actually never see an exit from a corner on which to orientate oneself. You just have to turn in at exactly the right time, in order to make sure you exit the corner where you need to. It has to merge, and that takes a few laps for you to get used to.”
On the whole, however, it is relatively easy for road racers to memorise the layout of the circuit: “Once you have ridden on the Isle of Man, Macau is more like a motodrome – six kilometres, as opposed to 60. You clock those six kilometres relatively quickly and know exactly where the track is taking you next. However, to be quick too you must grit your teeth and clench your buttocks...”
That is what makes Macau so special: the drivers have “extreme respect” for the circuit, although it may not be as quick as the Isle of Man or the North West 200. “As there is nothing but crash barriers to the right and left of you, you know that any small mistake will result in contact. There are only two corners in which you can carry straight on, otherwise you must avoid making any mistakes while braking at any cost.”
However, even without mistakes, Macau is tight – very tight! “Every year you see the odd rider whose overalls are roughed up, or with a few scratches on his helmet where he has brushed the crash barriers,” says Penzkofer, speaking from personal experience. “I have torn the shoulder on my race overalls twice, simply because they snagged on the wall. But that happens to everyone – even the top riders – because you ride so close to the track limits. That is part and parcel of racing in Macau. That is not so bad for the racing cars, as all you get is the wing mirror flying off. However, in the case of the bikes, where the rider is usually hanging farthest off the side, the first contact is automatically between the rider and the wall...”
The “Guia Circuit” is divided into one fast and one very winding section. As such, a bike must not only be very powerful, but also agile. The BMW S 1000 RR is one such bike, as confirmed by the results of recent Macau Grands Prix: last year, Peter Hickman, Martin Jessopp and Michael Rutter claimed a sensational one-two-three for the RR, with no fewer than five BMW riders finishing in the top six.
The top favourites put their faith in the RR in Macau, which is why Penzkofer believes “there will be a similarly strong result for BMW this year.” In total, 28 riders have registered for the milestone race, almost half of whom will be on the RR: 13.
Last year’s winner Hickman, Rutter and Stuart Easton race for the Bathams / SMT Racing team. Rutter is seen as the “King of Macau”: with eight wins to his name, he is the record holder and has made it onto the podium 16 times in Macau. Easton has won the race four times in the past.
Ian Hutchinson (Tyco BMW) returned from a long injury-enforced break to claim an impressive and much-heralded victory in 2013. This year, he has finished on the podium in every road race on his Tyco BMW S 1000 RR – a run he is desperate to continue at the season finale in Macau.
Martin Jessopp has made four appearances on the podium at the “Guia Circuit”. In 2016, he will once again be on the Riders Motorcycles BMW RR.
Penzkofer’s team “Penz13.com BMW by MGM & Special Olympics Macau” competes with Gary Johnson, who has also featured on the podium in Macau, and Danny Webb. Steve Mercer races for the Briggs Equipment BMW team – on the BMW S 1000 RR, on which Hickman took victory last year.
An old hand on the road racing circuit is Didier Grams. He will ride an RR for the “Heidger Motorsport by WEPOL, SAFMETAL” team. His team-mate is Czech rider Marek Červený. Also in action on RRs in Macau are: Dan Cooper (Dan Cooper Racing/CMS), Sam West (Ice Valley/Four Anjels) and Michael Sweeney (Martin Jones Racing).