Sophia Floersch

Macau or Las Vegas — hard to tell?

MOTORSPORTS enthusiasts searching for details of the Las Vegas Grand Prix online might have been puzzled when Google showed a similar event 12,000km away in Macau.

Same days, same times, both at world gambling hotspots, both featuring FIA-sanctioned races — and both on street circuits.

The one in Sin City was a round of the Formula 1 championship, the one in Macau a Formula 3 race, featuring the next generation of potential F1 drivers.

The Macau event even looked like parts of Las Vegas, its glittering resort strip complete with replica Eiffel Tower, plus it has the world’s biggest casino floor and the former Portuguese enclave actually has a gambling turnover higher than that of Nevada’s Sin City.

The big difference is that it was the American city’s first Grand Prix – and didn’t it show? While the Macau GP was its 70th.

The six-day program comprised a kaleidoscope of world-class motorsport featuring single-seaters, sports cars, touring cars and dual-make races on its famous 6.2km Guia Circuit – and the 55th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.

The big guns apart, one of the most popular drivers there was Sophia Floersch, the now 23-year-old German beauty (she’s also a sought after model).

She had a monumental crash there in the 2018 event and most who saw it presumed she’d died.

Her car became airborne after colliding with that of Japanese driver Sho Tsuboi at 172mph (that’s 275km/h).

It flipped upside down, shot arrow-like over the safety barriers and crashed underside-first into a triple-story temporary structure built for photographers.

The dramatic footage can be seen on YouTube. 

Unconscious and obviously seriously hurt, Sophia, Sho, a track marshal and two photographers were rescued from the debris and rushed to hospital, where, miracle of miracles, all survived — Sophia with a fractured spine.

But she was back in a race car four months later, and drove there again in 2019.

“She must have had an angel on her shoulder,” her team owner, Frits van Amersfoort, said at the time.

Now a member of the Alpine Driver Academy, she had a good run on race day, starting from 19th spot and zipping past rivals in the 27-strong field, to finish 11th.

En route, and in qualifying, she got trophies for posting the fastest top speed: 323.3km/h, making her the fastest driver overall on both race days.

“Just a normal Alpine girl racing against the clock and the guys,” she posted on her X account.

The race, twice red-flagged, was won by young British driver Luke Browning, of the Williams Driver Academy, from Dennis Hauger a Red Bull junior, and Gabriele Mini, driving for the Theodore Racing Team.

The Formula 4 race went to Arvid Lindblad, of Theodore Racing, with teammate Charles Leong second and Rashid Al Dhaheri third for Prema.

Lindblad is also a Red Bull junior.

For the Greater Bay Area GT Cup there were works Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ferrari and Porsche.

At the end of the 16 laps, Swiss steerer Raffaele Marciello took the flag, defending his FIA GT World Cup title with a dominant win and delivering victory on his Mercedes swan song.

He averaged 161.6km/h on the formidable circuit.

Second, just 2.5 secs behind was fellow Swiss Eduardo Mortara in the Audi Sport Asia Team’s R8 LMB GT3 Evo2, with Brazilian star Augusto Farfus third in a BMW M4 GT3.

Fastest lap went to fourth-placed Daniel Serra in his Ferrari 296 GT3.

There were also events for touring cars and a Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ match but the other highlight of the week was the 55th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.

Macau is the world’s only street circuit to host both car and motorcycle races. 

The 12-lap scorcher went to Britain’s Peter Hickman on his BMW M1000 RR from fellow Briton Davey Todd, with Germany’s David Datzer third.

First four riders were all BMW-mounted.  

Hickman, who in April won the Isle of Man TT, turned in a masterclass performance in the 12-lap race, leading from start to finish.

It was no mean feat, considering the unforgiving nature of the circuit which starts on a wide harbourside road, then does a right angle at the Lisboa Hotel and snakes up San Francisco hill on a narrower corkscrew stretch, between the houses and cliff-sides of the old town.

Then there’s the super-tight Melco hairpin before it opens up to the wide open 320+km/h straights to the modern seafront. 

Hence danger is never too far away, with the close walls and high speed sections often leading to drama and, occasionally, tragedy.  

The first Macau Grand Prix was held in October 1954, with Eddie Carvalho driving a Triumph TR2 taking the inaugural victory. 

The circuit left much to be desired however, and was steadily developed and by the mid-1960s the annual event had grown and began attracting attention from drivers in Europe.

In 1966, the Grand Prix began its transformation into an event for motorsport professionals when Mauro Bianchi entered his works Alpine Renault, which he had taken to ninth place at Le Mans earlier in the year. 

In winning the Grand Prix that year, Bianchi became the first driver to lap the Guia Circuit in less than three minutes.

The event became increasingly professional, with the circuit needing to keep pace with safety upgrades. 

Arsenio Laurel, the son of the Philippines President and a very capable driver, was the first double winner with consecutive victories in the 1962 and 1963 Grands Prix – and, in 1967, was also the first to die there.

He was killed when he lost control of his Lotus 22 and steered into the harbour wall, rather than plough into spectators.

The same year saw a happier first, with the debut of the Motorcycle Grand Prix. 

Local bike aces had pestered the organisers ever since the first race for a chance to compete and were finally granted their wish, making Macau unique among street races in holding two and four-wheeled competition on the same bill. 

The first bike race was dominated by Yamaha works rider Hiroshi Hasegawa, who powered his RD56 to victory at an average speed of just over 60 mph.

Macau’s third headline act, the touring car race, came in 1972, when John MacDonald won in a Mini Cooper – and also became the only man to win the Grand Prix on both two and four wheels.

“The place is extraordinary,” former F1 driver Martin Brundle said.

“It is a magnificent race track, which I still think of like Monaco at the beginning followed by Silverstone, as you go around the Reservoir section, because that’s a bit like the old Stowe and Club scenario.

“I loved the bit through the streets. I would like to go back and do it actually.”

As of now, the circuit has claimed 17 lives, nine of them motorcyclists, five car drivers, one spectator, an official plus a spectator. 

One of the most bizarre fatalities was in 1972 when Chan Shui Fat somehow baled out of his out of control Mini Cooper at around 170km/h when he realised it was going to crash into a wall. 

It didn’t do him any good.

Racing aces who won past grands prix there include Ayrton Senna, Riccardo Patrese, both Michael and Ralph Schumacher, David Coulthard, Ralph Firman, Takuma Sato, Lucas di Grassi, Edoardo Mortara, António Félix da Costa, Felix Rosenqvist and Dan Ticktum.

So for now, the Las Vegas Grand Prix is probably best known for its poor pre-race track preparation, which destroyed a Ferrari and an Alpine, while the Macau event can look back on a rich history with some happenings that can never be repeated.

Just ask Sophia Floersch.


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