The Second Life of Theodore Racing - Suncity Group Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix – FIA F3 World Cup

A new chapter of the Macau Grand Prix’s most celebrated racing team is being written. The local team that once ran four future Formula One World Champions in Ayrton Senna, Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Alan Jones has been reborn as one of the most successful names in junior formulas in Europe and a race winning force at home. But they are not resting on their laurels; their recent achievements may just be the springboard for an even brighter future.

Interview: Teddy Yip Jnr.

Entrepreneur Teddy Yip Jnr., the 35-year old son of late local businessman Teddy Yip Snr. – described as ‘Mr. Macau Grand Prix’ and ‘Father of the Macau Grand Prix’ – is forging a name for himself. Having inherited from his father the motor sports passion that only escalated by being exposed to it when whilst young during the Macau Grand Prix first and later on in the US.

Raised and educated in Canada, Yip Jnr. recently moved to Hong Kong, where he feels at home and is closer to Macau, the place his Theodore Racing plays a big role in the ity’s biggest annual sports event.

Founded in the 1970’s by Yip Snr., Theodore Racing is the first and only Chinese team to compete in Formula 1, having taking part in many other multiple high profile championships like IndyCar, Formula Atlantic and Formula 3. Following its inaugural Macau Grand Prix victory with Ayrton Senna in 1983, Theodore Racing has achieved a record eight wins in the Macau GP. The team competed on the Circuito da Guia for the last time in 1992 before making a spectacular race-winning return in 2013 under Yip Jnr. In partnership with Italian single seater powerhouse Prema Powerteam, Alex Lynn brought Theodore its seventh win before 2015 European FIA F3 Champion Felix Rosenqvist handed the team a record eighth victory.

Sometimes success even breeds continued success.

Successive wins and conquests in Macau and in the most demanding European tracks have further strengthened the Prema-Theodore partnership. But do not think Yip Jnr. started his motorsport involvement in the easiest way by branding someone’s team with Theodore’s logos. For him it all begun with UK-based Canadian flag Status Grand Prix Engineering in 2005 as one of the fastest emerging teams in motorsport in the global single-seater series running the A1 Team Ireland and A1 Team Canada franchises.

Making a name for himself

Why did he not choose Theodore Racing right from the start?

“I wanted to prove to the industry that I am good on my own [terms] rather than depending upon my father’s name, the brand that he built,” Yip Jnr. recalls. “After a number of years I found I had achieved that – and the 60th Macau Grand Prix, on the 30th anniversary of the Macau Formula 3 race, was the perfect opportunity to revive Theodore Racing.”

Following the A1GP adventure, the team entered Formula One feed series GP3 Series and raced at the famed Le Mans 24 Hours in 2006, contesting Le Mans for three successive years. Yip Jnr.’s Status GP also operated a two-car team in the GP2 Series (now called FIA Formula 2) for one season. Having acquired the Caterham Racing GP2 team and entry to Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes in October 2014, the team accomplished two victories in their maiden season but all good things come to an end.

Theodore’s closer ties with Prema chiefs Angelo and Rene Rosin made Yip Jnr. take the decision not to continue with Status in the GP2 Series, following quitting GP3 after a six-year stretch at the end of 2015.

Oddly, Status GP, whose managing director David Kennedy won races in the 1979 British Formula 1 Championship in a Theodore-run Wolf, never met Circuito da Guia. Partnering Prema Powerteam has never been in doubt as the best option to re-launch Theodore.

“In order to do it [n.d.r: compete in the Macau Grand Prix] successfully it was going to be important to partner a successful Formula 3 team because as I said we were running GP3 up to then. Frankly speaking, we at Status GP didn’t have the expertise to start cold and go on and win. The victory was and always is the objective,” he says.

The next step was obvious: “That partnership became more and more successful. Later on, Status GP entered GP2 as well, and Prema entered in GP2 in the following year. We already had such a successful relationship so we closed the partnership and we continued to work together.”

Expanding ambitions

The partnership with Prema Powerteam covers not only commercial aspects of the business but also sporting. Carrying with responsibility a big name in the world’s motorsport arena. Simply put, Yip Jnr. is very down-to-earth but ambitious, taking a long term view of what he wants for the team’s future.

“In the long term I’d like to go on with our great success in all these junior single seater categories. To be honest, I am quite happy with all we have achieved,” he adds. “If we can keep it up . . . I will be perfectly happy. There are many opportunities in motorsports and I know Rene and I are hungry for other things as well.”

Yip Snr. was always passionate about Indy cars and American racing and in many ways the US was his second home. In homage to the team’s entries of the 1970s and 1980s, the Theodore name was an active part of the celebrations of the 100th running of the iconic Indianapolis 500 in 2016. Yip Jnr. doesn’t close the door to becoming a permanent fixture in the IndyCar Series paddock one day.

“Personally, I have interest in the US’s IndyCar Series and in Japan’s Super Formula,” he admits. “We definitely have an interest. I enjoy the series and the competition and would like the opportunity to go for it for one day.”

Everywhere in the world the cost of climbing the ladder is prohibitively high and access to the feeder series is limited but Asia is making small steps in the right direction, helped by the booming Chinese economy and its giant car market.

As an entrepreneur he is also keeping an eye on the growing market of Chinese motorsports. The Theodore legacy is still incredibly strong in Asia, and the brand has a high prestige value in the region. The team is enjoying a great run of success in Formula 2, European Formula 3 and German and Italian Formula 4 but its physical presence in Asia is still sparse.

We caught up with Yip Jnr. in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship weekend at Zandvoort, Holland. During that very weekend Formula 3 Asian Championship was taking off at the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia.

“I have been sort of watching it from the corner of my eye,” he remarked with a smile. “I certainly have an interest in Asia. Given what we are doing now, the changes that are happening with the international Formula 3 (ndr: Formula One group of companies has been selected as the promoter for the new FIA Formula 3 Championship, which will begin from 2019), I really need to see what happens at Macau.”

Macau could have to make changes to its famed circuit to accommodate the new-for-2019 International Formula 3 category. The track is homologated to FIA Grade 3 standard until the end of this year but there has been talk of the necessity of having to uprate it to Grade 2 to accommodate it; something difficult to implement due to the circuit’s natural limitations. Such a move could entail Macau moving outside its association with the FIA – which awards FIA F3 World Cup status to the Formula 3 race.

“Obviously, Macau Grand Prix is very important to Theodore, and we need to see what’s going to happen with the future of the Formula 3”, said Yip Jnr.

Whatever happens with Macau’s Formula 3 race – run under FIA latest international regulations or not – it is fair to say that it is very unlikely we won’t see Theodore there.

The F Word

Teddy Yip Snr. sponsored cars in Formula One in the 1970s before fielding a series of his own chassis, first in 1978 and lastly in 1983. The return of Theodore to the highest echelon of motor racing is not something out off the cards but Yip Jnr. is very cautious in talking about it.

“Formula One? Certainly not in the short time,” he says. “If we could do it tomorrow without stabbing any finger: we’d do it tomorrow. Everybody would do it. But we have seen too many teams coming and go over the last decade . . .”

Formula One is a dream for every team; not only for drivers but also for engineers. Unsurprisingly, Italian outfit Prema Powerteam also keeps an eye on the big league.

“I know we both have an interest in Formula One; whether or not it is feasible is another thing. There is a certain appetite for other things. There is where our expertise lies now and we are successful in what we’re doing”, added Yip.

Now under Liberty Media’s watch, Formula One is pressing ahead with plans to introduce a budget cap in the region of MOP1.2 billion in 2021 as part of attempts to make the sport more attractive, along with more equitable prize money distribution and technical changes. They have not closed the door at Theodore.

“Let’s see what the future is, what will change in the economy, or the Concorde Agreement,” Yip Jnr. concluded.

Formula One dreams apart, from 15 to 18 November 2018, we all know that all the eggs will be in the Formula 3 basket.

Q & A – Local Roots

Macau Business (MB): Do you feel the support for Theodore from Macau and Hong Kong?

Teddy Yip Jr. (TY): I feel strong support from both Macau and Hong Kong. We have a very successful partner in SJM, which means a lot to us as it is a Macau brand. Equally, as a Hong Kong brand as once (Theodore Racing) was, we have one strong partner in Hong Hong, the prestigious jeweller K. S. Sze & Sons. I’m also delighted that our friends BBIN have stayed with us for a third season. Our partnership to date has enjoyed great success.

MB: With such a big tradition in the sport, the best go-karting facility in Southeast Asia and considerable support from the government for motor racing, awkwardly there is a serious shortage of talent in Macau. You’re involved in the grassroots of motorsport internationally: how do you see this phenomenon?

TY: It is difficult in Macau with one street circuit event per year to create talent. You have to look at motorsports in China as a whole. Macau Grand Prix is definitely really important on the international scene. But in Mainland China they are building ten or twenty racing circuits now, what is a great thing to promote the sport to a wide audience. The real tipping point will be a Chinese superstar; a Chinese Formula One driver. It has to happen. It happened with basketball in China. It was nothing until you got a Chinese superstar in NBA and now it is the national sport of China.

MB: Should the Macau Government and competent sporting authorities intervene and do something like creating a racing academy or a driver development programme?

TY: It would be a great idea. I think it would be really worthwhile. It is an awfully expensive sport now.

MB: We know you are coming to win again this year but what happened to Theodore in the last two editions (ndr: Carlin won in 2016 and Motopark in 2017)?

TY:  You know that you need as much luck as you need skill. In Macau, everything needs to be perfect!