While people keep on bragging about the 2010 F1 season and follow the young driver tests in Abu Dhabi I am already turning my attention to the 2010 Macau GP that is on this weekend. The racing season is not over for me until all the debris is swept from the twisty curvy Macau street track on Sunday evening . I will be in Macau this weekend enjoying what likely will yet again be an action packed crashfest.
The star event of the weekend is the Formula 3 race with Edoardo Mortara back in the former Portuguese enclave to defend his 2009 title. Nobody has ever won the Macau F3 race back-to-back, in fact nobody has ever managed to win it twice. Mortara came close – he was the runner up in 2008 before winning the race in 2009. I found last night in my mailbox press release including Q&A with Edoardo Mortara. I decided to post the questions and answers here as they offer a Macau race winner’s view of this exciting and challenging street circuit (plus yet another hint that without pile of money in the pocket it is hard to graduate to F1 these days):
What is it you love about Macau, and why are you so bleeding fast there?
I don’t know really, I just feel comfortable at this track. I have no fear of the walls, I have the confidence to push incredibly hard. Maybe that’s not the case for some others. Also, the atmosphere is really fun. If you can go, I’d urge every race fan to come, and if you can’t then you should definitely watch it on TV.
What are the set-up demands of a circuit like this? It seems to be a circuit of two halves.
The Circuito da Guia is a pretty unique track. You’ve got a very, very long straight where you need top speed. But the mountain section is tight and twisty, so the challenge is to find the correct balance between high downforce and low downforce.
Talk us through a complete lap, corner-by-corner…
The first two corners after the start finish line are easy flat. They’re part of the big straight and here you can get a good tow and make overtaking moves. The braking zone for Turn 3 – Lisboa Bend – is severe. You arrive in sixth-gear at 260km/h and have just 100 metres to slow for the sharp right-hand second-gear turn.
Here begins the mountain section, and I have to say I absolutely love this part of the track. I’m getting excited just picturing it. Turn 4 is a fast right where you try to carry a lot of speed in and get a good exit for the straight up San Francisco Hill. The following corners are a combination. You arrive in fifth and brake on the right-hand-side of the track, change down to third, and carry lots of speed into the left-hander. Then you brake immediately for the third-gear, right-hand corner known as Maternity Bend.
Then there’s a small straight, enough to get up to fourth, and you stay in that gear as you sweep through a fast left turn. It’s an ‘S’ curve which switches back, and you can take the right-hander still in fourth. Next is a left-right kink which is flat-out but tricky – it’s pretty easy to lose the car here.
There’s another small straight where you accelerate up to fifth-gear before braking for a third-gear left-right corner combination. Back to fourth and immediately there’s a really narrow right, which is pretty bumpy under braking. Here, it’s easy to lock a front wheel and go off. Second-gear on the exit, then third, then brake hard for another second-gear right-hander.
Up through the gears to fourth, and brake for a left-hand spoon curve that is banked and allows you to carry a lot of speed. Exit in third-gear. The next corner is the famous Melco Hairpin, and that demands first-gear and a lot of steering wheel lock. It’s very tight – the track is just seven metres wide here.
Now we’re back on the wide track section. Watch out for the walls. This is a pretty long straight, fifth-gear, brake for the penultimate corner, Fisherman’s Bend. A fast right-hander, third-gear. The exit is pretty critical to prepare for the final corner, and if you’re not carrying maximum speed at the exit there you’ve had it. Straighten up in fourth-gear and put your foot to the floor for another lap.
You dominated the weekend last year, but were passed by your team-mate in the race and had to win the position back. Tell us about that weekend, and how it felt to win.
I arrived in Macau off the back of a very difficult, frustrating GP2 season. I was downcast. I knew I had to win Macau at all costs in order to save my career. The stakes were huge, but the result was totally revitalizing. It was the best day of my life.
I was quickest in all the practice sessions but I couldn’t really get a good lap in qualifying. I started the main race third on the grid. My team-mate Jean-Karl Vernay was on pole. We had an identical package and he was driving very well, so I knew it would be a real challenge to win the race.
I got in the lead at the start but when the safety car came out, Jean-Karl slipstreamed past me. I hunted him down until Lap 11 when he fluffed a gearshift at the hairpin. I closed right up on the straight, got a tow, and made the move stick at Lisboa. It wasn’t an easy race for me, but it was a fantastic race!
With one victory and a second place you’re already have the most successful record in Macau. But was it gutting not to win in 2008? What happened?
Of course it was disappointing, but I learned a lot from it. We dominated that year until I had a small technical problem during the final, which slowed the car. On top of that I clipped the wall because I was pushing so hard to stay with race leader Keisuke Kunimoto. That was it for me. I had to settle for second, and come back the following year to prove what I was capable of.
It’s your third Macau with Signature. What makes your partnership so successful? Is it the technology or more the relationships?
The relationships, for sure. It feels more like a big family than a racing team. I’ve been there for quite a long time now, I know all the guys well, and I think that’s helped us be so competitive. They work 100 percent to give me the best car possible every time.
Why are you returning to Macau? What else is there to prove?
Nothing really. But I’m not going to Macau to prove something, I’m going because I absolutely love racing there. I’ve raced at Monaco, Monza and Spa. For me, this is the greatest track in the world. End of story.
On top of that, I know we have a strong package and I can win this important race for a second time. It’s a nice position to be in.
If you win again, that’ll put you firmly in the history books. That’ll make you Mr Macau! What’s your next racing ambition?
In a way, I’m already Mr Macau. But certainly, to be the only driver to win there twice would be magic. I’m not really focusing on that, I’m just going there to give it my maximum. We’ll see for the rest.
As for my ambitions, the first Macau win didn’t result in loads of calls from F1 and GP2 teams – not without them wanting lots of money, anyway, which I don’t have – so I’m not expecting another Macau victory to be any different really.
How did your first taste of a DTM car go, in the Six Hours of Brno?
It was a great experience. I had just a small taste of what a DTM car is like to drive, but I loved it. It was a bit different to what I’m used to, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I’m really looking forward to driving it again.
Right now, of course, you’re focused on the week ahead. When you won the Euro Series you got engaged. What are you planning by way of celebration should you do the double in Macau?
(Laughs) Nothing special. I’ll buy the drinks! I think getting engaged is enough at the moment. It’s been an incredible 12 months for me, winning Macau a year ago, winning the Euro Series, and yes, getting engaged – all life changing stuff. Best year ever, I’d say, and another Macau victory this week would bookend it nicely. But even if I don’t win, it’s not the end of the world. Life is very good at the moment. I’m really happy. And I’m really excited about revisiting ‘my’ circuit.