‘You ap­proach it at 180mph, bang it down, and throw it in’

Performance Bikes (UK) - - It Legend -

I RE­MEM­BER THE FIRST year I went to Ma­cau. It was 1998 and I was rid­ing a Honda NSR500, so right in at the deep end! Af­ter I wild­carded at the Bri­tish GP I tapped up Joe Mil­lar as I fan­cied a blast around Ma­cau, and Paul Bird, who I was rid­ing for at the time, didn’t want to go. It was for­eign and ex­otic and to be hon­est, for a young lad from More­cambe who had hardly been out of the UK be­fore, the thought of rac­ing in Hong Kong was ex­cit­ing. But I’m not sure I looked the part – on the plane out there a cou­ple of me­chan­ics mis­took me for a stu­dent back­packer! A big rea­son for want­ing to go in ’98 was that every­one said it would be the last GP as Por­tu­gal was hand­ing Ma­cau back to China. I’dhave been gut­ted tomiss out on rid­ing where the likes of Haslam and Schwantz had won. Lit­tle did I know that 19 years later I'd still be rac­ing on the same cir­cuit. When I ar­rived in Ma­cau it was one hell of a shock. It was so hot and hu­mid and the food, peo­ple and cul­ture were all new. Noth­ing can re­ally pre­pare you for it. I had a few shirts, a pair of shorts, my Vimto leathers and £100 in my pocket. And the track was, and re­mains, more than a bit daunt­ing. Ma­cau is a street cir­cuit and the first time I saw it I thought, ‘Je­sus, what am I do­ing here?’ They take the new rid­ers around in a van; peo­ple are talk­ing to you, telling you about this and that, but you just have no idea. Af­ter the brief­ing you have about two or three days on the drink – that’s just what hap­pens in Ma­cau – and then it’s first prac­tice. Which is a rude awak­en­ing. You get to the cir­cuit when it is still dark, and at 7:15am you are out on track. you let the clutch out, tired, jet­lagged and still a bit hun­gover, and all of a sud­den you have a big - time re­al­ity check. Ma­cau is quite an un­for­giv­ing track, and very fast in sec­tions. Af­ter ex­it­ing the last cor­ner in sec­ond gear you across the start - fin­ish in fourth and the first left - han­der has a fast en­try where you go from bar­rier on peel in to bar­rier on the apex to bar­rier on the exit! It takes some build­ing up to and when the track is fresh and cov­ered in dust and grase it's ver scary. Like the TT, Ma­cau is raced on plublic roads, and can be sketchy for a few laps when shitty lo­cal taxis have spewed oil every­where!. Af­ter turn one, the right han­der of Man­darin is even more in­tim­i­dat­ing. It is the scari­est turn on the track - you ap­proach it in such at 180mph, bang it down two, and then throw it in. Fuck, that's a hairy cor­ner - it's so deep and fast and you have a mas­sive straight lead­ing to it, which means you have loads of time to shit your­self on the ap­proach! Once you get around it you toip out at around 190mph be­fore brak­ing into Lis­boa, which leads to the re­ally phys­i­cal back sec­tion.

Where the start is fast, the back sec­tion is ba­si­cally all taken in sec­ond gear. It is re­ally nar­row and pic­tures don’t do jus­tice to how steep San Fran­cisco Hill ac­tu­ally is. This whole sec­tion is re­ally tech­ni­cal and over­tak­ing is hard, so you end up just rolling the throt­tle and fol­low­ing other rid­ers. There aren’t re­ally many over­tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties at Ma­cau aside from a lunge at the Hair­pin or Lis­boa, so you need to come up with a plan on the back sec­tion. But it’s such hard work, which is why rid­ers get frus­trated and fall off at the Me­ico Hair­pin.

The Hair­pin al­ways stinks of diesel as there is a re­fin­ery next to it and it’s dead easy to tip off – it’s so tight that if you tip in too early you run out of lock and that’s you over! But if you get good drive out of the Hair­pin you can over­take go­ing into Fish­er­man’s. It’s an­noy­ing that I’m much bet­ter on the twisty sec­tions than the hard brak­ing zones – that’s why I of­ten get my pants pulled down at Ma­cau.

Fi­nally, af­ter Fish­er­man’s it is R Bend, which is where old Gus Scott nearly ended up in the sea! He got a bit giddy, missed the bend and tried to take a swerve up the pit­lane en­trance, way too fast. He hit the bar­rier and ended up with waves lap­ping his leathers and wa­ter in his lid! One of the mar­shals tried to help him, fell over the sea wall and ended up on top of him. It was funny, once we knew he was OK.

Like the TT, Ma­cau is all about link­ing sec­tions to­gether to get a good re­sult, which is prob­a­bly why I like it so much. Run-off is lim­ited to bar­ri­ers, and yes, you do end up rub­bing them with your leathers, but not on pur­pose! Gen­er­ally you turn your shoul­der if you are go­ing to kiss a bar­rier, so most scratches are on your back rather than your shoul­der. It looks cool but is fuck­ing scary and not ex­actly what you want to be do­ing at 140mph with no run-off...

WHO IS JOHN McGUINNESS? The More­cambe Mis­sile has 23 isle of Man TT wins to his name. And Ma­cau still scares the shit out of him...

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