Thirty two riders from nine countries will take the start for this year’s Suncity Group Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix - 48th Edition, and there’s bound to be a great deal of interest as triple winner Stuart Easton renews his partnership with Paul Bird Motorsport on the 6.2km Guia street circuit.
But Easton, who took three consecutive Macau victories from 2008 to 2010 and will ride a Kawasaki this year, won’t find it easy to recapture his winning ways. The pressure starts with his team-mate, the formidable Ian Hutchinson, who marked his return to race fitness after a long injury with a sensational comeback on the streets of Macau one year ago.
Also back this year is Michael Rutter (Milwaukee Yamaha), who followed Hutchinson across the line in second place last year and is Macau’s most successful rider ever, with no less than eight wins on his CV, most recently in 2012.
Never to be ruled out is the man who is easily the most successful road racer of his generation. Although the supremo of the roads has only one Macau win under his belt, John McGuinness can call on a vast depth of experience and ability, and is always ready to take a win when the opportunity is there.
But they will all be matching their skills against the man who is arguably the hottest property in road-racing at the moment, Northern Ireland’s Michael Dunlop. He returns for a second visit after a two-year absence but he arrives, leaner, fitter and if anything, meaner than ever. Two major victories at the NorthWest 200 this year and four wins at the Isle of Man, two on the big BMW, have been backed up by winning the Joey Dunlop Superbike race at Frohburg on a Rico Penzkofer BMW, and setting a new lap record in the process. That’s the bike he’ll ride in Macau this year and it’s hard to imagine he won’t be in the hunt for the top step of the podium.
Yet there is a wealth of talent on the entry list that makes picking a winner truly challenging, especially with a mixture of experienced veterans and gifted younger riders.
This intriguing combination is perfectly illustrated in the unmistakeable shape of the Ice Valley by Motorsave Trade Racing team. Paul Shoesmith is a road race and Macau veteran, while his 27-year-old team mate Peter Hickman is a circuit-racer widely tipped as a rider on his way to the top.
A lot of names will be familiar to race fans - Austrian Horst Saiger returns for the seventh time aboard a Saiger-Racing.com Kawasaki, American Jeremy Toye (AREA 57 Kawasaki Penz13.com) is back for his tenth visit, while Splitlath Motorsports team mates Brandon Cretu and Mark Miller (both Americans) are no strangers to Macau and will race a pair of Erik Buell motorcycles.
Add in clever, experienced riders like Gary Johnson (Quattro Plant Honda), third in Macau last year, Steve Mercer (Penz13.com BMW Motorrad), Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles BMW), Stephen Thompson (Penz13.com BMW Motorrad) and Belgian Marc Fissette (Heidger-Motorsport.de Suzuki), and there’s a full field of riders who will be crowding each other for places near the front of the grid and in the top ten as the chequered flag is dropped.
A rich and expanding European road racing scene has tempted more and more riders to end their season in Macau: Germany’s Didier Grams is back on the Heidger-Motorsport.de BMW, and Swiss racer Roman Stamm (Team Bolliger Switzerland Kawasaki) races here for the second time.
Portugal is well represented, Nuno Caetano and Tiago Magalhaes both experienced road racers and seasoned exponents of Macau’s challenging Guia Circuit. They will be Kawasaki team mates at FMP Team Portugal.
British riders make up a substantial portion of the rising stars, and that list would have to include Dean Harrison, a multiple winner at a number of events this year, notably the Southern 100, although recovering from injury now.
Jamie Hamilton has been on the injury list as well this year but he’s fully fit despite a tumble at the Scarborough Gold Cup, and he’s back in Macau on a Wilson Craig Racing Honda. Lee Johnston (East Coast Construction/Pertik Racing Honda) has had plenty of success in the 600cc and Supertwin classes this year, and he’s looking for an international win on a big bike to round off the season.
The list of riders returning after their Macau debuts last year makes interesting reading as well. DMR Racing field Dan Cooper alongside the more experienced James Storrar, fifth last year, on a pair of immaculate BMWs. Graham English is another making his return, also on a BMW, this time from TIVA Engineering, while South African Allann-Jon Venter switches from Honda to Yamaha at CF Racing Team 32, partnering another rider on his second visit, Portugal’s Andre Pires. Ireland’s Steve Heneghan rode here for the first time last year too - he’ll be riding a Kawasaki for Quattro Plant Motorsport.
Newcomer Michael Sweeney is a multiple winner on road circuits back home and another one flying the Irish flag in Macau; he’s racing for Burrows Engineering Racing alongside Dan Kneen, and if you were looking for a surprise winner this year then the very much on-form Manxman could well be the one, providing he is fully recovered from the foot injuries he received at the Ulster Grand Prix soon after taking the first international race win of his career.
With such a huge depth of talent, predictions are close to impossible; the only certainty is that there will be close and thrilling racing throughout the field as 32 of the best road and endurance racers in the world line up for the start of the Suncity Group Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.