Andy Wallace faced his biggest challenge this season, if not of his career, when he flew out to the Far East to take part in the 33rd Macau F3 Grand Prix. The Lucas British F3 champion had dominated the national series, but faced his most important race yet in Macau when he took on 31 other drivers, which included one F1 driver, seven F3000 men and some of the best F3 talent in the world.
Throughout the practice days leading up to the Grand Prix, Wallace kept his Watson’s/Madgwick Motorsport Reynard 853/VW firmly on the track and away from the notorious walls that surround the Macau street circuit. His distinctive Reynard was clearly getting quicker and quicker and he finally clinched second place on the grid alongside Italian Stefan Modena’s Reynard 863/Alfa Romeo. Behind was Dutchman Jan Lammers and 1986 Super Van champion Didier Theys. But it was Modena who eventually got pushed down the order as’ Lammers and Wallace pulled away from the rest of the field, with the Dutchman’s Ralt a fraction ahead of Wallace. With two laps to go Wallace risked a daring outbraking manouvre to squeeze past Lammers and lead to the flag. That first win guaranteed him pole position for the second race and as the lights came on, Wallace got off to one of his infamous “blast away from the pack” starts to leave the field trailing in his wake. The only threat throughout the 15 laps came from F3000 man Emanuele Pirro, who kept the crowd on its feet as he searched for a way past Wallace’s Reynard. But the Italian had to content himself with second place after discovering there was just no way round the charging Englishman. The Macau Grand Prix marked Andy Wallace’s final accolade of the year. He’d come to the Far East as a champion and left as a champion; his undeniable potential for the future was underlined.
The 33rd Macau Grand Prix attracted a healthy entry this year, perhaps not as impressive as in previous years, but the quality of the competitors promised much. Former Lotus F1 driver Johnny Dumfries was out in a Marlboro/Theodore-backed Reynard, but he had problems in both timed practice runs setting his car up with a new wing and then finding himself qualifying at the wrong time with new rubber. The 1986 F3000 champion Ivan Capelli didn’t fare much better either and was decidedly despondent about his performance saying: “It’s a problem getting back into an F3 car. This is a difficult circuit. Maybe it’s my driving which doesn’t suit Macau.” The popular Italian found himself relegated right down the grid for the first race on the 11th row.
Seasoned campaigner Mike Thackwell also appeared to have trouble adjusting to an F3 Ralt, but the New Zealander was tight lipped about his performance and merely said that he was satisfied with the car. Many people were expecting better things from him and were surprised to see him on ninth slot of the grid. Several of the regular British F3 drivers had made the 8000 mile trip out to Macau and aside from Wallace, Martin Donnelly and his Swallow Racing Ralt looked the most promising. After coming to terms with Fisherman’s Bend, the Irishman lined up seventh for the first race, but the comer caught him out again and he was forced to retire. Team mate Brazilian Maurizio Sandro Sala had been held up in practice with exhaust problems on his Ralt and consequently had it all to do in the second practice run. It was not enough and Maurizio was forced to line up next to Capelli.
Damon Hill and his Flying Tigers/Murray Racing Ralt had a hard week. First of all he was nearly punted over a wall by German Hans Peter Kaufmann’s Dallara. His team got the car repaired for the first race, with Damon starting way down the grid. Unfortunately he went wide at the Donna Maria Hairpin and his week was over in Macau.
“I was just learning the circuit when Kaufmann decides to pull over into me,” said a frustrated Damon afterwards. “It’s been good experience racing here though and I’ll be trying to come back again next year.”
The rest of the field boasted Swedish F3 champion Niclas Schonstrom, who was having problems coming to terms with the track. While Geoff Lees was experiencing his first F3 race for eight years, but was not too unhappy with his practice performance. The F3000 men were having just as hard a time as their F3 counterparts in coming to terms with the walls and Andy Wallace was one of the privileged few who kept his car in one piece. Last year’s Macau Grand Prix winner, Mauricio Gugelmin had brake problems on his Raft and admitted: “It’s much harder work this year, but I shall wait and see.”
Unfortunately every year there is some sort of shunt which involves a number of drivers. Sometimes it happens in the first heat and sometimes in the second. This year it was the first run, at Statue corner, as 32 cars headed down Yacht Straight at 120 mph. The sharp right hander immediately afterwards always catches someone out. “I was taking the inside line when I got launched from behind by someone and I think I also hit a couple of cars,” said Johnny Dumfries. This incident effectively meant that he, Thackwell and Dane Kris Nissen had to miss the first race and were tagged on the back of the grid for the second.
Amidst all of this, Modena, Lammers, Wallace and Theys had pulled away from the rest of the field to fight over the front places. Geoff Lees was forced to retire after his car clouted a wall. Lammers and Wallace increased their pressure on Modena, who tried his best to hold them off. His efforts were wasted as he was later to be penalised for jumping the start.
The race then boiled down to a Lammers v Wallace confrontation. The rest of the field was spread out all round the 3.8 mile Guia circuit and not likely to pose any threat to the front duo. Eventually Wallace saw the chance he wanted, banging wheels with Lammers he drew alongside the Dutchman at Statue and outbraked him into the corner and then led to the flag. Behind Mauricio Gugelmin had come charging up through the order to take third just ahead of Yannick Dalams, Michel Trolle and Pirro.
Following his penalty Modena was moved to the back of the grid and Lammers found himself on the front row next to Andy. Behind sat Gugelmin and Dalams. As the lights flashed to green, Wallace got off to his flying start, while Gugelmin edged past Lammers followed by a storming Trolle who had moved up from his fifth place. Johnny Dumfries got off to a ripping start along the outside of the grid, but he was to miss out again after a coming together with Frenchman Paul Belmondo later in the race.
Geoff Lees and David Hunt collided at Statue and their race was over. Up front, Wallace was looking superb. He had edged away from a mighty battle involving Gugelmin and Trolle and a charging Pirro who was now up into fifth. By the end of lap three, Pirro was on a blaster and was starting to challenge Guegelmin for second place. Coming down the Grandstand Straight Pirro drew level with the Brazilian and as they headed up to Maternity Bend, Emanuele saw his chance and dived past.
Pirro then set about finding a way past Wallace. He kept up a constant challenge for the remaining laps of the race, but just could not find the edge to get by the British F3 champion. Wallace led to the flag. He had driven in superb style throughout both of the 15-lap heats, under some of the sternest pressure he’d ever experienced and won the day. TW