At a crossroads

66th Macau Grand Prix Special | Co-ordinated by Sérgio Fonseca

FOOD4U Macau Touring Car Cup

For the locals, the Macau Touring Car Cup, an event for amateurs and semi-pros, is one of the favorite races of the weekend. Perhaps that is the only race in which you can see your neighbour competing, the Macau Grand Prix, reviving the memories of the past when the weekend offered a wider variety of races for the local racers. The Macau Grand Prix evolved, and the level today is higher than ever before, which makes everyone wonder if we were not better off in the past.

Established in 1991, today this action-packed race, which always promises plenty of thrills and spills, sees a large variety of cars competing. Following its merger with the Macau Road Sport Challenge Race in 2017, the ‘new’ Macau Touring Car Cup again includes categories for both 1600cc Turbo and 1950cc-and-over large-scale series production cars. The leading 18 competitors from each of the two classes in the 2019 Macau Touring Car Series –- AAMC Challenge 1600cc Turbo & Over-1950cc — were given an entry. Food delivery app FOOD4U returns as Macau Touring Car Cup title sponsor once again, providing a generous MOP1.9 million support to the event.

For the local Touring Car drivers, this is the most important race of the season, but lately, a feeling of unease has invaded the paddock. Most of the drivers are still dissatisfied with the merger of the two classes, arguing that the speed difference between the two specifications of cars is too big and dangerous at Guia Circuit. At the same time, many of the Macau drivers feel a bit disappointed with the direction that this perennial race has taken, mainly those who have been racing for more than two decades.

Yesterday is a far more comfortable place, but what used to be an entry-level race is now a race as expensive as a top category, with many of the cars on the grid being developed to an extreme only accessible to some deeper wallets. The uniqueness of the technical regulation doesn’t make the local driver’s life any easier, as you may end up developing your own car by yourself, an undertaking that usually comes with a big bill and a lot of headaches. All these setbacks make one wonder if we were not better off in the past.

Technology and progress do not always come with a guarantee of a better show and more excitement. For the amateur drivers, the huge transformation of the racing industry is not easy to follow, and it is easy to understand why.

“If you ask me which races I preferred, today’s or in the 1990s, I would say the 1990s,” says the 1999 ACP Cup and 2017 Macau Touring Car Race 1600cc race winner Jerónimo Badaraco. “Those cars in the 1990s, like the Honda Civics EF, EG or EK, the Toyota Corollas AE86, AE92 or AE101, were naturally aspirated engines cars, not turbo engine cars. The driving style of NA cars is very different, and you can drive with high RPMs. Cars were much more reliable. At the time, we didn’t need a data engineer to set up the car. We all used the ECUs tuned from the factory, not like today.”

In these new circumstances, it is not difficult to find someone pointing out that the enthusiasm in the past was bigger than it is today, one idea that is easy to demystify.

“I don’t think the passion has diminished,” says Mário Sin, a former Macau Grand Prix Organisation Committee member and Macau Grand Prix Race Director. “The thing that change is that the Macau Government support for the local drivers is no longer enough to have a well-prepared racing car to take part in the race due to the technical evolution of the cars.”

Drivers and teams do not like to talk about how much they spend on racing. Money is a well known racing taboo, but it is common knowledge in the paddock that a good 1600cc Turbo car can cost over 1 million MOP, and a race-winning Over-1950cc machine can cost you far more.

Retired Macau racer and Hotel Fortuna Cup winner Álvaro Mourato explains why: “Before, the things were simpler and cheaper. Every mechanic could do the manual job of preparing a car. Now there are factory parts that you can’t touch. There is more technology and computers, and the local mechanics can’t do anything. The racing engines come from the manufacturers and they do the ECU programming. I’m pretty sure the local mechanics don’t know how to set up a 4-way suspension.”

“To make a good impression in the race today, you need a good technical crew with the skills to set up the car. Otherwise you have no chance to perform well against the others,” adds Sin.

With this set of technical regulations coming to an end soon, the Macau Touring Car Cup could be at crossroads. Sooner or later, the Associação Geral Automóvel de Macau-China (AAMC) will have to decide on a clear direction for their Touring Car series and for this race in particular. It won’t be an easy decision to take, and it will certainly not generate consensus. The national sporting authority will have to decide if they keep a local-made technical rulebook like today’s or introduce an international regulation like the globally spread TCR concept.

“The Macau Grand Prix is now completely internationalized, so I believe the technical regulation to adopt in the future must be an international regulation. The TCR would be a good choice indeed,” Sin concludes.