Macau Grand Prix Leg 2 (Sunday November 16th):
Weather: Warm, muggy, overcast. Light rain on the grid.
Once again, perhaps inevitably, one of the drivers in the 50th Macau Grand Prix tried to take himself out of contention on the formation lap. This time it was Hiroki Yoshimoto (Swiss Racing Team) who was left looking foolish after he knocked the front wings off his Dallara before the race had even begun. Luckily he hadn't done any further damage and the team had plenty of time to fix the problem before the race start, which was a long way off as first there was a lion dance and then the drivers had to be lined up to meet various local dignitaries before they could even think about getting back in their cars.
With the rain seemingly holding off despite some damp patches on the circuit, the second and final leg of this remarkable race finally got underway. James Courtney (Tom's) made the most of his pole position to get away cleanly when the lights went green. Behind him, Nicholas Lapierre (Signature Plus) also held position just behind the Australian. Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport) astounded the spectators with a daring move to grab 3rd place. For a rookie, this was the performance of a lifetime. Elsewhere Lei Kit Meng (Manor Motorsport) and Jo Merszei (Alan Docking Racing), the local heroes in this race, were in the middle of the grid by virtue of having stayed out of trouble in the first leg, and were both anxious not to get in the way of the visitors. As a result we were treated to the rather odd spectacle of two cars pulling over to the side and waiting for everyone else to go through. This is not something you see every day!
However, others were not so fortunate. Having survived the mayhem that was the first leg, Richard Antinucci (Hitech Racing) found that his luck had run out and he hit the wall. Arriving at Sao Francisco to find the American in his way, Robert Kubica (Target Racing) joined him in the wall, along with Antinucci's teammate Andrew Thompson. Hamilton was clipped by the American's wing, as well as a lot of other flying debris, but managed to cling on to 3rd through it all, and the survivors soon found themselves lining up behind the Safety Car. Although the wreckage was again removed in a very efficient manner, it still took two laps to clear away the debris. While the mopping up operation was in progress, the order behind the Safety Car was Courtney, Lapierre, Hamilton, Fabio Carbone (Signature Plus), Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Ernesto Viso (Promatecme F3), Robert Doornbos (Menu Motorsport), Ronnie Quintarelli (JB Motorsport with Inging) and Ryan Briscoe (Prema Powerteam).
At the restart a number of things rapidly became obvious. The major one was that the first lap incident would have more repercussions than were immediately apparent. The first major consequence came when Hamilton discovered he'd picked up a puncture. As the lights went green and the Safety Car pulled in to the pits, Hamilton had to pull over and allow Carbone through before limping into the pits himself.
At the front Courtney had to defend himself from a very determined onslaught from Lapierre, who really wanted the lead and was trying all sorts to get it. Meanwhile, Viso had also gone out of the race with damage sustained from debris, which left the Menu cars of Austin and Doornbos slugging it out, the former hampered by no longer being in possession of a full set of front wings. He wasn't the only one either. A little further back, young Nico Rosberg's Carlin Motorsport Dallara was also looking decidedly used, though as at Pau it didn't seem to be slowing him down any.
At the head of the field, Lapierre was almost underneath Courtney's rear wing as they arrived at Melco each time, though on the straight sections Courtney was able to make use of the Toyota engine's superior straight line speed compared to that of Lapierre's Renault power unit, and would break away only to be reeled back in again as Lapierre set a new fastest lap of the race. Courtney promptly responded, by going even faster and trying even harder to pit some space between himself and Lapierre, and was finally able to break the tow. After that he started to pull away, putting in some remarkable lap times as he headed for what looked like being his second win of the day.
Further back in the order there was an equally absorbing battle in progress, although it wasn't anywhere near as fast as the fight for the lead. It did involve a gaggle of drivers who had been less than lucky in the first leg. It seemed to start with Rosberg charging up the order while Austin slipped down and developed a traffic jam all his own as he struggled with a car made difficult by the lack of most of his front wing. The similarly-hampered Finn was scrapping furiously with Danny Watts (Alan Docking Racing), and had Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme) right with him, until the Malaysian pulled off and out of the race, limping into the pits, a victim of on-track debris.
Meanwhile Carbone was looking like he was about to be disqualified. At the end of the Safety Car period it appeared he had overtaken Hamilton before they crossed the start/finish line and the race went live again. He was handed a drive through penalty, which he appeared to be ignoring, though it later became clear that the penalty had been awarded erroneously. Hamilton had slowed right down as the puncture that put him out of the race made itself felt, leaving Carbone no choice but to pass him. All was well at Signature after all. Carbone responded by setting a new fastest lap, though Lapierre almost immediately improved on that and started reeling Courtney back in again. The Frenchman was soon close enough to think about passing and as the pair reached Lisboa he took a good look. Courtney shut the door very firmly, and tried to find a way to respond.
A little further down, the other Aussie, Briscoe, was making good progress and had made his way up to 7th, mainly by keeping his head and staying out of trouble, something that had clearly not occurred to the mob bottled up behind Austin. There were oil flags out at various points on the circuit, to say nothing of a rash of yellows, which was hampering them all somewhat, though it ceased to matter to Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), as he pulled into the pits, his race run.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was trying all sorts to get past Austin, only to lose out to Nelson Piquet Jr (Hitech Racing), leaving the older members of the press corps wondering if this was some sort of strange flashback! With Piquet no longer attacking him, Rosberg could concentrate on Austin, which can't have made Austin too happy. Rosberg edged alongside but couldn't quite make it to start with, but almost immediately came back again, finally squeezing through to leave his nose wing end plate stickers flapping, having tried to leave them stuck to Austin. With only half a front wing of his own, Austin was now in real trouble, and was immediately passed by Watts and Cesar Campanico (Signature Plus). As Piquet broke away, Rosberg made a mistake and went missing, ending up in the barriers after an entertaining but ultimately fruitless drive. Watts was now at the head of the hideous mess in the middle, and some of the pressure was taken of when Austin finally pitted, though his team waved him straight back out again.
Courtney was now on a serious charge, setting the fastest lap of the race, managing somehow to go even faster than he had in the morning's race (when he was almost a full second faster than anyone else). He had been convinced all weekend that a lap under two minutes and thirteen seconds was possible, and now he had proved it. It was a stunning effort and it really looked as if he was clear of Lapierre too. Then, to the amazement of the Frenchman, Courtney hit the wall at Melco, the result as it turned out of a piece of carbon debris puncturing one of his tyres. The suspension was heavily damaged and the bodywork deranged and Courtney was out of the race in the most heartbreaking way, leaving a stunned Lapierre leading from Carbone, with Doornbos now in 3rd place and in sight of the podium. Things seemed to be much calmer now, probably because there were hardly any cars left in the race, and the ones that were now had a lot of space around them. Even so, there was another retirement, this time Marco Bonanomi (Target Racing) was out but he had been so far back that it really made no difference to anyone except him and the team. Pierre Kaffer (Superfund TME Racing), meanwhile, was on the move, and was after Tatsuya Kataoka in the remaining Tom's. The German was piling the pressure on, and was giving the Japanese driver a very hard time in his efforts to grab 6th place. That suddenly became 5th two laps from the end when Doornbos' luck turned cruel. A gearbox failure, on top of the driveshaft failure in race one, was almost too much for the Dutchman to bear and he was obviously deeply distressed at having a podium placing taken from him through no fault of his own. This promoted Hiranaka to an unexpected third place, a long way ahead of Quintarelli, while Kaffer was now 5th after pulling a very fine move on Kataoka, who promptly crashed out on the last lap, perhaps in solidarity with team mate Courtney. It meant that Tom's went home with nothing, while Signature Plus took the first two places, Lapierre becoming both the youngest ever winner of this event, and the first rookie since David Coulthard to take the title. It would be a long time before he would stop smiling afterwards, though there was a brief tearful moment on the podium.
Paulo Montin (Three Bond Racing), here for the umpteenth time, took 6th, from Briscoe, Piquet Jr, Campanico and Watts, with Courtney setting the fastest lap in a time 2:12.937, a mind-boggling average speed between these unforgiving walls of 102.98 mph.
-By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite