by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite - Motorsport.com


48th Macau Grand Prix
November 15th/18th 2001

Leg One
Weather: Hot, sunny.

If we thought we had seen chaos on Thursday, it was amazing how much worse it was about to get. The sizeable grid lined up in fairly good order for the warm up lap, and things started to go wrong almost immediately when Kosuke Matsuura (Prema Powerteam) was unable to pull away. The Japanese limped into the pits and would start from there. It may have been the safest place to be, given what happened next. As the lights turned to green Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) made a good start, though not as good as he sometimes does. This was despite the encouragement of around 100 members of his fan club, over from Japan on a trip organised by his father - their fanaticism was great fun to watch, especially as one of them had a replica of Takuma's helmet and insisted on wearing it while watching the race! Bjorn Wirdheim (Prema Powerteam), the pole man, was in hot pursuit and the two of them battled it out all the way through the first few corners, only for both to lose out to a superbly opportunistic move on the part of Jonathan Cochet (Signature Competition), as the Frenchman saw a gap and went for it, snatching the lead from under the noses of the battling duo. Wirdheim slotted in behind him and Sato fell back to 3rd. However, it would turn out to be completely academic because in the middle of the field all hell had broken loose with two separate accidents on the entrance and exit of Lisboa. Opinions would differ later as to who was to blame. There were two camps, one containing Derek Hayes (Manor Motorsport), and the other just about everyone who was behind him... Hayes insisted someone pushed him off, while the other school of thought held that Hayes had tried to go up the inside of the corner, taking the left-hand line, while everyone else, conscious of needing to survive for the second leg of this event, went up the right and that no one hit Hayes until after he had hit the barriers and most of the guys immediately behind had piled in to him. Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme UK) was certainly less than impressed at being involved in another impromptu flying lesson with Hayes after Thruxton. He was among the gaggle of cars that were all tangled up at Lisboa. Badly unsettled by all of this, various others crashed at Sao Francisco, Sakon Yamamoto being the first off, and causing Raffaele Giammaria (Team Kolles Racing) to go off in avoidance, the likeable Italian hitting the Armco a very hefty blow.

The result was an instant red flag and a restart, which saw some serious gaps on the grid as 11 of the original 29 drivers were stranded in the pits one way or another. Hayes, of course, would not take the restart, nor would Giammaria. Further casualties were Joao Paulo de Oliveira (Swiss Racing Team), who had quite a bit to say about Hayes, Pierre Kaffer (Team Kolles Racing), Toshihiro Kaneishi (Opel Team BSR), Peter Sundberg (Three Bond), the only Chinese driver in the race in the shape of Marchy Lee (Saulnier Racing) and Sakon Yamamoto (Tom's). In addition, Bruce Jouanny (Promatecme UK) and Tristan Gommendy (ASM-Elf) would not start along with the rest of the pack but would eventually rejoin to complete some of the race distance after repairs were hastily effected in the pits. Maybe the new start would be calmer - it was to be hoped that common sense would prevail, as there was still a long way to go. However, it was not to be. At the front things were pretty normal. This time Sato made no mistake, muscling past Wirdheim and into the lead by the time the front of the field reached the Lisboa corner. And Cochet could do nothing about it this time as he was embroiled in a three-way fight with Paulo Montin (Tom's) and Benoit Treluyer (Mugen X Dome Project). This left Wirdheim free to concentrate on staying with Sato if he could, while Cochet fell victim to both the drivers behind him and suddenly fell down the order to sixth place. Another driver in some trouble at this point was Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK), who managed to pick up a puncture driving over some debris left behind by the catastrophe that was the first start. He dived into the pits to get fresh rubber and spent the rest of the morning trying to play catch up.

While Sato was busy opening up a gap of over a second, Tiago Monteiro (ASM-Elf) and Enrico Toccacelo (Opel Team BSR) managed to get entangled, Toccacelo going out there and then, while Monteiro was able to continue though he would limp back to the pits to get a new wing fitted. The race was beginning to look more than a little bizarre at this stage, with Hayes's team-mate Mark Taylor (who had somehow sailed through the middle of the entire contretemps at the start without anything at all touching him) was now up in 8th, having started 19th. Heikki Kovalainen (Fortec Motorsport) was another one who had made rapid progress, moving from 23rd on the grid to 10th by the end of lap 3.

At the front, the battle for 3rd was still raging with Treluyer and Montin still slogging it out for the place, and although Montin managed to get in front, he couldn't shake the Frenchman off, no matter what he tried. For that matter, Sato couldn't quite rid himself of Wirdheim, the Swede now setting the fastest race lap as he clung to the gearbox of the Carlin car, the gap reducing noticeably. And then it all started to go wrong again. Ryo Fukuda (Saulnier Racing) and Cochet got embroiled and crashed heavily. The Japanese was badly concussed (though he would fortunately turn out to be otherwise undamaged) and the Safety Car was scrambled while he could be rescued and taken away in an ambulance. So the whole field bunched up behind the Safety Car, and stayed behind it for three laps. Judging by what happened at the restart, it seemed that no one had warned the drivers that there would be a rolling start and no sooner was the Safety Car in the pit lane than it had to go straight back out after Mark Taylor thoroughly embarrassed himself. Pushing too hard as they crossed the line to start racing again, his tyres cold, he managed to lose control and ended up in the wall. Peter Hackett (Carlin Motorsport), coming through behind him, found an unattached wheel in his way but managed to stay on track despite clipping the errant object. It was all a bit silly really and Taylor had the grace to look very sheepish when questioned later about what had happened. He admitted to a nasty case of brain fade and went back to hiding in the back of the Manor garage before anyone else could ask about it. On lap 9, the Safety Car finally pulled off and we were back to racing, or at least to a struggle to survive to race again in the afternoon. After all, by the start of lap 10 we had seen a stunning total of 4 racing laps. And these guys are meant to be professionals...

With 5 laps left to run it was really just a sprint to the finish, and the order at the end of lap 10 was Sato, Wirdheim, Montin, Treluyer, Matsuura, Bobbi and a somewhat surprised Kovalainen in 7th. The only real excitement now was watching Treluyer setting about Montin, who was now the fastest driver on the track. Eventually they settled down too, discretion seemingly the better part of valour for the Frenchman. He would settle for 4th and live to fight another day. At the very front Sato was now holding Wirdheim off and making it look very easy, while Kovalainen was attempting to stay out of trouble and would come home 8th, after Yuji Ide (Signature Competition) squeezed him out for 7th. The Finn was having a baptism of fire all right - there can't be many drivers who have made their F3 debut at Macau, and that at the end of their first ever single seater racing season; it was a mature performance in which he managed to stay out of trouble while others completely lost their heads. There are those who say this youngster is a champion in the making - we definitely count ourselves amongst them.

<pre> Leg 1 - Classification: 1st - No. 6 - Takuma Sato, J, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen, 44:48.559, 15 laps 2nd - No. 27 - Bjorn Wirdheim, S, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess, Gap: 1.490 3rd - No. 12 - Paulo Montin, I, Tom's, Dallara F301 Toyota Toms, Gap: 2.369 4th - No. 3 - Benoit Treluyer, F, Mugen X Dome Project, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen, Gap: 10.576 5th - No. 28 - Kosuke Matsuura, J, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess, Gap: 11.191 6th - No. 36 - Matteo Bobbi, I, Target Racing, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess, Gap: 27.953 7th - No. 26 - Yuji Ide, J, Signature Competition, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, Gap: 28.257 8th - No. 23 - Heikki Kovalainen, SF, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F301 Renault-Sodemo, Gap: 33.534 9th - No. 32 - Michael Ho, MAC, Cram Competition, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess, Gap: 42.669 10th - No. 7 - Peter Hackett, AUS, Carlin Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen, Gap: 50.799 11th - No. 22 - Lei Kit Meng, MAC, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F301 Renault-Sodemo, Gap: 54.272 12th - No. 29 - Jo Merszei, MAC, Cram Competition, Dallara F301 Opel-Spiess, Gap: 1:21.482 13th - No. 18 - Tiago Monteiro, P, ASM-Elf, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, Gap: 2 laps 14th - No. 17 - Tristan Gommendy, F, ASM-Elf, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, Gap: 2 laps

Not Classified: No. 20 - Haruki Kurosawa, J, Swiss Racing Team, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess, Lap 13 No. 30 - Andy Priaulx, GB, Promatecme, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen, Lap 12 No. 16 - Mark Taylor, GB, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen, Lap 8 No. 31 - Bruce Jouanny, F, Promatecme, Dallara F301 Honda-Mugen, Lap 7 No. 25 - Jonathan Cochet, F, Signature Competition, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, Lap 4 No. 8 - Ryo Fukuda, J, Saulnier Racing, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo, Lap 4 No. 2 - Enrico Toccacelo, I, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F300 Opel-Spiess, Lap 2

Did Not Start: No. 19 - Joao Paulo de Oliveira, BR, Swiss Racing Team, Dallara F399 Opel-Spiess No. 10 - Pierre Kaffer, D, Team Kolles Racing, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen No. 1 - Toshihiro Kaneishi, J, Opel Team BSR, Dallara F300 Opel-Spiess No. 15 - Derek Hayes, GB, Manor Motorsport, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen No. 21 - Peter Sundberg, S, Three Bond, Dallara F301 Nissan-Tomei No. 33 - Raffaele Giammaria, I, Team Kolles Racing, Dallara F300 Honda-Mugen No. 9 - Marchy Lee, C, Saulnier Racing, Dallara F399 Renault-Sodemo No. 11 - Sakon Yamamoto, J, Tom's, Dallara F301 Toyota-Toms

Fastest Lap: No. 12 - Paulo Montin, I, Tom's, Dallara F301 Toyota Toms, Lap 14, 2:13.263, 102.73mph/165.32kph