Macau is a region on the south coast of China that has earned the nickname “Las Vegas of Asia” for its casinos and malls, which are the attractions that draw most of its visitors. Racing fans, however, recognize Macau as being the site of one of the most challenging street circuit races in the world, with the Macau Grand Prix weekend. The two big races held there are the FIA Formula 3 race and the FIA GT World Cup race, which drew 21 entries this year, including two from BMW.
BMW has a history of racing and winning at Macau. It was a regular stop on the World Touring Car Championship calendar when that series was running, and most recently has been hosting the GT3 race. Augusto Farfus won the GT World Cup race there in 2018 in an M6 GT3, and this year’s race was the first one since 2019 due to COVID. The entry list was full of factory supported cars with works drivers, including Farfus in the #11 M4 GT3 entered by ROWE Racing, and Sheldon van der Linde in the #32 M4 GT3 entered by BMW M Team WRT.
Van der Linde had never raced at Macau before but was the quickest rookie in the opening practice session. He performed well in qualifying as well, slotting into fifth position with a 2:15.216 lap, followed by Farfus in eighth with a 2:15.435. The pole went to Raffaele Marciello in a Mercedes-AMG GT3 with a 2:14.542. Marciello was the defending winner from the last race at Macau in 2019.
The GT World Cup has a qualifying race after qualifying to determine the grid for the main race, and the BMWs finished fourth (Farfus) and fifth (van der Linde) in that race to both start within the top five. Marciello won the qualifying race to keep the pole position. Once the race got underway, both van der Linde and Daniel Serra (driving a Ferrari) got around Farfus, which dropped him back to sixth and put van der Linde into fourth behind Edoardo Mortara’s Audi, with the Mercedes of Marciello and Maro Engel running first and second.
An early accident in the race led to a short caution, and Engel had an issue with his car right after the restart, which moved van der Linde into third behind Marciello and Mortara. Farfus also got around Serra to move him into fourth. The race continued without another caution, and it seemed that the BMWs would finish in third and fourth, but van der Linde suffered a tire failure while running in third that essentially took him out of the race and moved Farfus up into third for a podium finish behind winner Marciello in the Mercedes and Mortara in the Audi.
The race ended up being a heartbreaker for van der Linde but showed a strong performance from the M4 GT3 in its debut at the track. “This is a fantastic way to end the season,” said Farfus. “I put myself in position on Saturday with fourth place to be able to fight for the podium in the main race on Sunday. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much space on the outside at the start and nearly had an accident. After that, I took a calmer approach and hoped for a restart after a yellow period. That came, and I was able to use it to gain a position. Unfortunately, Sheldon and Maro Engel had problems in front of me, which of course was good for me and brought me to third place.”
Race winner Raffaele Marciello was in his last race as a factory driver for Mercedes, as he is heading to the Hypercar class of the FIA WEC for 2024. Although it has not been confirmed which team he’ll be driving for, word on the track is that he’ll be racing a BMW M Hybrid V8 for BMW M Team WRT.
BMW also had great success at Macau on two wheels. The Macau Motorcyle Grand Prix was held on the same weekend as the car races, and BMW riders finished in the top four positions, with Peter Hickman taking his BMW M 1000 RR entered by FHO Racing BMW Motorrad to the victory. He was followed on the podium by Davey Todd and David Datzer. —David Haueter
[Photos courtesy Gruppe C Photography, BMW]