The Macau Guia Race has long been one of the highlights of the global touring car calendar, but this year, the iconic event looks a little bit different.
For the first time since 2004, the race will not be part of a wider international competition due to the obvious travel issues raised by the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the entry list may appear rather unfamiliar to those of us from outside of Asia, with the grid set to be formed predominantly by TCR China Series competitors and other local drivers.
However, one name on the list which should need no introduction amongst touring car fans is Rob Huff. Off the back of winning the 2020 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, the Brit will return to Macau this weekend, despite having had to undergo a strict two-week quarantine before getting the chance to even sit in his new car.
The car in question is something very different to what fans will have become accustomed to seeing him drive in recent years. Since 2017, Huff has regularly been seen behind the wheel of a Volkswagen for the likes of Leopard Team WRT, Sébastien Loeb Racing and most recently, Lestrup Racing.
This time however, the Brit will be piloting one of Lisheng Shanghai Racing’s factory-supported MG 6 X-Power TCRs. In doing so, he becomes only the second non-Asian driver to get behind the wheel of an MG TCR car, with the first being Rory Butcher during the 2019 FIA Motorsport Games.
Given his stature as the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Champion, ‘Huffy’ will undoubtedly be one of the favourites heading into the weekend, as he searches for a record tenth victory around the notorious circuit.
That said, he is unlikely to have it all his own way. Ma Qing Hua, another former FIA World Touring Car race winner, will likely be his closest rival. The Chinese driver, who has also competed in Formula E, will lead the charge for MG’s main rivals Lynk & Co.
Running under the Shell Teamwork Motorsport banner, Lynk & Co will field three cars in a bid to win the battle of the two Chinese marques.
Joining Ma is the likes of Sunny Wong, a highly-experienced touring car driver and regular TCR competitor. Wong has appeared in various championships over the years, including the TCR UK Series where he finished on the podium at Oulton Park in 2019 – ironically for a team part-owned by Huff.
In the third car, you’ll find Jason Zhang – a multiple race winner from the Chinese Touring Car Championship, who has beaten established European names such as Colin Turkington and Pepe Oriola in the past.
MG, meanwhile, has not taken the challenge of Macau lightly either, and arrive with their own star-studded line-up. Alongside Huff, Macanese tin top expert Rodolfo Ávila will be another driver to watch for the Anglo-Chinese brand, as he goes after title glory this weekend.
While many people will be viewing this race as a one-off blue riband event, it is worth remembering that this year the Macau Guia Race will act as the TCR China Series title-decider.
Ávila is MG’s main challenger on this front, with the championship battle set to be fought between himself and Lynk & Co’s Ma, with just eight points separating the pair of them.
However, as the driver with all the chasing to do, Ávila may prove to be the largest barrier between Huff and race victory, should MG ask the Brit to concede position in order to help the Macanese driver win the title on home turf.
Ávila’s regular team-mate Zhang Zheng Dong also returns, while the fourth MG on the grid will be driven by Andy Yan Cheuk Wai. Having won multiple championships over the past decade, including the TCR Asia Series back in 2016, Yan is considered to be one of the continent’s top touring car drivers.
Beyond the semi-works entries of MG and Lynk & Co, there are also plenty of noteworthy independent drivers on the entry list who have pedigree at this level.
Audi drivers Yang Xi and Wu Yi Fan have been full-season entrants in the TCR China Series this year, and will likely put up a good fight against names which have been staples of the Macau Grand Prix weekend for the past two decades.
One such name is that of fellow Audi driver Filipe Clemente de Souza, a driver who has appeared in twenty-four World Touring Car races in the past few years with a best result of sixth in 2017.
With twelve RS3s on the grid this weekend, the Audi seems to be a popular choice for Asia’s independent cohort, with the likes of Team NewFaster also fielding one of the German cars.
Huang Chu Han will arguably be the driver to watch amongst NewFaster’s line-up. As the reigning TCR China Series champion (having beaten Dan Lloyd to the crown), Huang is a force to be reckoned with in his own right.
Honda are another brand with a rich history in Asian touring car racing. The Japanese marque’s presence on the grid will be maintained by the likes of MacPro Racing Team, Maximum Racing and Team TRC.
Eurico de Jesus – another former World Touring Car driver – will lead MacPro’s charge, while Lo Sze Ho in the Maximum car is a driver worth keeping an eye on.
In his older FK2 shape Civic model, the Hong Kong racer has put in some stellar performances in the TCR Asia Series in the past, taking victory at the Bangsaen circuit in 2018; another harsh, unforgiving street course.
As you can see, the 2020 Macau Guia Race should still be one of huge intrigue and quality, even if it may not quite have the international draw of previous years.
Free Practice gets underway this Friday at 10:30 CST (02:30 GMT).