Macau Opinion | What could be done to attract more local Macau drivers to compete in the Macau Grand Prix?

A simple question but a deep passionate answer is necessary.

Given the current economic climate in Macau, it’s a good question. And one that can be answered in three parts. The need to be objective is always useful because of the problems and miscommunications that exist in some of these sports related developments. And also the importance of having in the first place, the truth and reality of any given situation.

Overall the current development of motorsport in Macau is in a downward spiral of decline.

Firstly, we need to look at what is happening in reality at the grassroots level of motorsport in Macau. At this level, there are the karts and motorcycles racing championships.  It’s all well and good to have a seasonal race series running throughout a certain part of the year but the limited track time imposed by the management of the Macau Kartodrome is a bit far-fetched. We should look at kart tracks around the world, I would not expect the same kind of track closure times like Macau.

Ten years ago when the kart track opened, karters and riders were able to test and train from morning to afternoon. Nowadays, they are restricted to two evenings and one morning of the week for testing. How can any racer expect to develop their skills with such limited track time? Testing is essential in any form of motor-racing, so how can we expect our young, serious Macau racers to develop into professional drivers as fast as possible?

But then from the residential complex across the road, there are complaints of extreme noise pollution. In a way, we are sacrificing the development of the sport by appeasing local residents. So what can be done to find a solution? After all, Macau has a rich heritage in motorsport and its motorsport history is unrivalled in Asia. This karting race track is the ultimate grassroots of Macau motorsport and it’s essential to strengthen its foundation. We definitely need to do something there. With all the resources that the Macau SAR has, there should be a Macau F-1 race driver by now.

Moving on up to the next level . . . and this is the MTCS (Macau Touring Car Series). Just a basic minimal budget needed for this level is approximately MOP500,000. MTCS is crucial for any race driver planning on racing in the annual Macau Grand Prix because the series acts as the qualification races for the Grand Prix Road Sport Cup race and the CTM Cup race. It is mandatory for any race driver from any part of the world to compete in order to qualify for entry to the MGP as well. This new rule was brought into effect this year. As time goes by, it is perhaps good to have changes in rules and regulations and the attempt to advance and develop with the times is a natural progression. But only time will tell if these changes have a negative or positive result. 

So for this year, we can see how many foreign drivers have raced in the MTCS and why it is such a low number. It’s because foreign teams and drivers don’t want to come for the Macau GP anymore due to the mandatory participation in MTCS. I mean what has the MTCS to offer in terms of international television coverage, marketing potential, and media packaging? The MTCS seemingly caters to local Macau racers. How can we develop well when we are only racing among ourselves?

In a new century

We need to constantly question ourselves, analyse and debate if the changes are truly positive. There is also the challenge of adapting to changing regulations because of the short notice with which these new rules have been announced. There may be drivers with bigger budgets who are able to invest in having their own race car but even they cry foul when the rules and regulations are constantly changing and monies invested in cars are wasted as the new rules may not permit certain modifications.

All these changes drive expenses and budgets up and in this day and age of the 21st Century, when everybody else in the world is trying to be more environmentally friendly – going green, saving and cost cutting – we are actually only encouraging racers who have plenty to spend to race and only the very rich can participate in motorsport: 100 years ago this may be very true, as only kings, dukes and counts could afford to go racing, but we are in 2017. Are we going backwards? When the rest of the world is trying to make motorsport available and accessible for the general public, we are trying to make it a near impossible mission for any new race driver to make a start in motorsport!

Motorsport is a very big industry. Where there are race drivers, there are race teams, race personnel, and we need these ingredients to make any kind of racing possible. Budgets needed for this category far exceed MOP1.5 million, most likely more. These are astronomical numbers for any potential new race driver when the series they will be racing does not offer any kind of marketing return for sponsors.

The third part is quite disappointing due to the mismanagement of the sponsorship fund that the Macau SAR has for local race participants. We must applaud Chief Executive Dr. Fernando Chui Sai On (then acting as Cultural and Social Affairs Secretary) who in the year 2000 enacted a decree that sponsored local racers to race in more overseas international events in order to develop the sport. At that time, motorsport in Macau started flourishing and many young and new racers could kick-start their racing careers. Experienced drivers could even move up a rung or two on the international racing ladder.

For example, in 2006, as an individual racer, I was able to go to Spain, to the Ascari circuit with my team to drive and race a Formula -1 Arrows – Cosworth race car in the Euroboss series. I had been racing Formula 3 for seven years and it was time to move up. I knew that if I did not take this opportunity, it would be lost forever and it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Nowadays, with the current sponsorship system, there is no chance of that happening again.

Will it end in tears?

This sponsorship fund has totally lost any positive meaning because now with its current system and rules the majority of Macau racers are restricted to racing in China. There are some who venture out to other Asian championships but only ones with big budgets. The system now only rewards sponsorship of the richest drivers and teams. This is a total reversal of direction for the development of motorsport in Macau. At this present moment of time, we have inexperienced, and incompetent officials running and managing motorsport.

These people have never raced in their lives, let alone racing hard at international level, and they think they are doing the right thing. Their knowledge of motorsport is severely limited. Their stubbornness and arrogance prevent any kind of communication and debate between the relevant parties. The general feeling is that they are hindering the development of Macau motorsport for their own career advancement and benefit.

It seems these officials don’t even know the difference between black and white. The feeling we all get is that the Macau SAR is only interested in the development of the Macau Grand Prix event and not Macau motorsport. How ironic is that? They do need to learn to do the right thing. We all know we have some great people on the Macau Grand Prix Committee and the Macau Sport Development Board but if we don’t use the right people for the right position we all know these things will just end in tears.

We just cannot parachute any official into a position of power to manage motorsport or sports in Macau when these officials know zero about racing and sport in general. The current system has lost its real meaning and purpose and the future looks very bleak. The existing general feeling of Macau racers is of a negative stance. We need to have more positive power if we are to dig ourselves out of the deep hole we are in.

In conclusion, again the development of motorsport looks weak and bleak. And on the point of the Macau Grand Prix the passing of Mr. Barry Bland in July this year is a great loss to the Macau Grand Prix and the people of Macau. Without Barry Bland’s consultation, guidance and unconditional help in all quarters for the last 30 years, Macau Grand Prix would not be where it is today.

We must never forget our old friends who have made us what we are today. Here I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects and tribute to this great and generous man for his contribution to Macau and the Macau GP for the past three decades. But right now in this current situation that we are in even Barry would be turning in his grave with all the negative people trying to run the Macau Grand Prix and Macau motorsport into the ground.

Joseph Rosa Merszei