Formula three: Macau Grand Prix

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Storming the Far East

Despite the best attempts of Typhoon Nina, the storm which raged for most of the duration of the 34th Macau Grand Prix, British Formula Three regular Martin Donnelly scored the most important win of his brief career to head home a star-studded field.

The annual end-of-season race around the streets of the gambling-rich Portuguese colony in southern China had attracted the likes of Formula 3000 Champion Stefano Modena; 1985 and 1986 Macau winners Mauricio Gugelmin and Andy Wallace; and British, Italian, French and German Formula Three champions Johnny Herbert, Enrico Bertaggia, Jean Alesi and Bernd Schneider — as well as the likes of Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries, Mike Thackwell and Emanuele Pirro.

Up against such exalted opposition, Donnelly’s achievement in grabbing pole position and then never being headed in the 20-lap race was a major one.

The weather played a major role for most part of the weekend. Although the first practice session was held in glorious sunshine, heavy rain and strong winds descended the following day, and all of Saturday’s activities were cancelled. Even on raceday, the weather was still bad, both the main event and supporting touring-car fixture being reduced to single races as opposed to their originally planned two-heat formats.

From the security of pole slot, in his Intersport Engineering-run Ralt RT31Tom’s Toyota, Donnelly never put a foot wrong to lead the whole of the race. His Mr Juicy-sponsored car beat fellow front-row starter Modena’s Reynard-Alfa Romeo, the two Theodore Racing/Marlboro Reynard 873-Volkswagens of Pirro and Herbert and the rest of the field into the first corner. Behind them mayhem broke loose, as Bertrand Gachot’s Ralt was pushed into a spin by Joachim Winkelhock (Reynard 873), who had been nudged by Jean Alesi (Dallara 387) after the latter jumped the start. In the confusion, car after car was held up, although nobody was actually eliminated.

This allowed a fast-starting Jan Lammers (Ralt RT31-Tom’s Toyota) up behind Donnelly, Modena, Pirro, Thackwell (Reynard) and Herbert. However, at the second corner, Thackwell nudged Pirro and the pair spun into the wall. Herbert spun down the field in avoidance, damage to his front wings and rear suspension effectively ruling him out there and then.

The Dutchman soon passed Modena, the pair then battling for second spot for most of the race as Donnelly cruised to victory. However, close to the end, Modem pitted with a lose rear drive peg, falling to fifteenth at the finish. This moved Julian Bailey’s Reynard R+D 873 up to third, but he was gradually being hauled in by Bernd Schneider, who was putting in the drive of the race in his West-sponsored Dallara. He easily overhauled the battle between Bertaggia and Gugelmin, which went the way of the Brazilian in fifth spot, and set about Bailey. Sadly for the Briton, his car began to misfire, low on fuel, and as the duo headed for the line on the final lap the German slipped past.

That drive by Schneider, a prospective Zakspeed Formula One pilot, had brightened up an otherwise dull race. Bailey was the highest-placed Briton — Dumfries running home ninth with his West Ralt which did not handle to his liking or have enough power throughout the race, while Dave Scott’s Ralt-Nissan managed eleventh. Wallace, the 1986 winner, had had a terrible weekend, qualifying down in 18th spot and then being penalised three minutes for an apparent starting irregularity. It made no difference to his overall finishing position of twelfth. This year, all the glory went the way of Martin Donnelly. GD

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