Prema Powerteam’s Daniel Juncadella powered to a spectacular victory at the 58th Macau Grand Prix on Sunday.
Juncadella beat Felipe Nasr and Marco Wittmann to the chequered flag in a race peppered with incident and multiple safety car periods.
The result meant Juncadella became the first ever Spaniard to claim the prestigious event in its illustrious history.
A good, if frantic, start helped Juncadella, who jumped two spots to 4th off the line, while pre-weekend favourite Roberto Mehri stalled on the grid, impotent as cars rushed by either side of him.
It quickly turned to carnage as first Laurens Vanthoor clouted Mehri, before rebounding into the innocent Daniel Abt. Mehri’s poor day was compounded moments later – the Spaniard would moments later be rammed up the rear by the blind-sighted Richie Stanaway, ending both their Macau challenges.
For poleman Wittmann, the start was relatively easy. A swift launch into an early lead, aided by fellow-front row man Nasr falling to 3rd behind Valtteri Bottas before the opening turn.
Juncadella rose to 4th before the opening turn, heading off a challenge from Japan’s Hideki Yamauchi (5th) and Yuhi Sekiguchi (6th).
There was still more opening lap drama at Lisboa, when a spun Carlos Huertas met with Marco Asmer in the barriers. Both would continue, but too far behind the field to make any moves.
With an air of inevitability, the safety car made its first appearance of the race, cancelling Wittmann’s early advantage.
Saturday’s race winner continued his charge at the front, fending Bottas and Nasr off once the race restarted on the fourth lap. Bottas, however, wasn’t quite as sure footed. A mistake entering the final set of corners gave Nasr the edge he needed to pass the Finn; however it was Juncadella who proved the most decisive.
Sitting in Nasr’s slipstream, Juncadella drafted passed the Bottas / Nasr fight, assuming 2nd spot, while the Brazilian maintained 3rd as he sped passed Bottas. There was a certain finality to Bottas’ backward step – eager to keep close to Nasr, the Finn lost his Dallara in San Francisco corner, hitting the barrier.
With Bottas out, Yamauchi was promoted to 4th, although it would not be long before the Japanese pilot lost out to a fiery Sekiguchi and Hannes van Asseldonk. As the trio shuffled for position, Yamauchi fell to the rear of the group, with Sekiguchi assuming 4th.
Little of this registered with Wittmann – the German now found himself nearly three seconds ahead of the pack; however this lead would soon be cut short.
Felix Rosenqvist’s torrid Macau experience came to an early end on lap seven, after his Mücke-Mercedes machine became enamoured with the barriers at Faraway.
With this came the second safety car period – one that would prove to be the game changer.
Come the lap ten restart, Wittmann’s restart was slightly less assured, allowing Juncadella, Nasr and Sekiguchi to run alongside as they approached Lisboa. What was looking like an assured Macau victory only minutes beforehand, turned on its head thanks to a disastrous getaway by Wittmann.
Squeezed at the corner entry, Wittmann dropped to 4th, becoming 5th when van Asseldonk slithered by moments later.
With Wittmann relegated down the order, Juncadella led ten laps from Sekiguchi, Nasr and van Asseldonk; however neither Nasr nor Wittmann were ready to settle.
Sensing the top spot, Nasr pressed and pushed Sekiguchi for all his worth, passing the substitute runner into Lisboa for 2nd on lap eleven, while Wittmann grabbed 4th back from van Asseldonk one tour later.
Macau would be slightly less forgiving for those behind the front men. While the leaders battled hard, Carlos Munoz lost his fight with traction at Lisboa, sliding front first into the barrier and retiring on the spot. It had been a poor weekend for the Colombian, who had struggled amidst the midfield throughout the meeting.
Yamauchi’s luck would also run dry, once the Japanese pilot glanced the barrier exiting the final corner. Yamauchi’s regression down the order would be slow, but it was clear his Toda-Honda had been rendered undriveable by hurt suspension.
Juncadella too came close to making a race-ending mistake – several in fact. The Spaniard survived a ragged twelfth lap with his Prema Powerteam machine unscathed; however Nasr had by now closed the gap to half-a-second.
As Nasr pushed hard, Juncadella’s composure held, allowing the race leader to extend the margin to Nasr to one 1.1 seconds.
Meanwhile, Wittmann was catching the pair of them. A pass for 3rd on the fading Sekiguchi allowed the German to steam up to the rear Nasr; however neither Nasr nor Wittmann would have time to force the issue.
As they crossed the start/finish line to complete thirteen tours, the safety car emerged, neutralising the event.
With twelve’s kilometre’s left to run, a frightening smash occurred at Mandarin bend. A mistake by the faltering Yamauchi caused Fortec’s William Buller to take avoiding action, only for Kevin Magnussen to run over the top of Buller and into the catch fencing.
Sino Vision’s Hywel Lloyd attempts to miss the crash came to nothing, when the unsighted Carlos Sainz Jr. hit him from behind in his Signature machine. The luckless Alexander Sims was caught up in the tail end of the melee, eventually spinning out one turn later.
Both Magnussen and Lloyd were taken to the infield care centre, although both would later be released with mild bruising.
The incident allowed Juncadella to cruise to the flag to claim his victory, with Nasr and Wittmann in close company. Sekiguchi secured 4th ahead of van Asseldonk, while Buller survived the Magnussen clash to come home 6th. Lucas Foresti brought his Fortec-Mercedes to the flag in 7th, heading off Jazeman Jaafar (8th, Carlin), Richard Bradley (9th, TOM’S) and Adderly Fong (10th, Sino Vision).
Hitech’s Pietro Fantin just missed out on the top ten. He beat Kimiya Sato (12th, Motopark) to the line, while Huertas recovered to finish 13th and last. Although the 2011 Macau Grand Prix was certainly interesting, it sadly fell short of being a thriller, but wreckage and safety car spoiled events rarely live long in the memory.
Race Rating: 3 out 5
2011 Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix (Feature Race, 15 laps) Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Daniel Juncadella Prema Dallara-Merc 42m17.099s 2. Felipe Nasr Carlin Dallara-VW + 0.359s 3. Marco Wittmann Signature Dallara-VW + 0.662s 4. Yuhi Sekiguchi Mucke Dallara-Merc + 1.378s 5. Hannes van Asseldonk Hitech Dallara-VW + 2.128s 6. William Buller Fortec Dallara-Merc + 3.301s 7. Lucas Foresti Fortec Dallara-Merc + 3.860s 8. Jazeman Jaafar Carlin Dallara-VW + 4.062s 9. Richard Bradley TOM'S Dallara-Toyota + 4.595s 10. Adderly Fong Sino Vision Dallara-Merc + 4.819s 11. Pietro Fantin Hitech Dallara-VW + 5.551s 12. Kimiya Sato Motopark Dallara-VW + 6.534s 13. Carlos Huertas Carlin Dallara-VW + 8.336s Retirements: Kevin Magnussen Carlin Dallara-VW 13 laps Hideki Yamauchi Toda Dallara-Honda 13 laps Hywel Lloyd Sino Vision Dallara-Merc 13 laps Carlos Sainz Jr Signature Dallara-VW 13 laps Alexander Sims TOM'S Dallara-Toyota 13 laps Marko Asmer Double R Dallara-Merc 13 laps Antonio Felix da Costa Hitech Dallara-VW 12 laps Carlos Munoz Signature Dallara-VW 9 laps Felix Rosenqvist Mucke Dallara-Merc 6 laps Valtteri Bottas Double R Dallara-Merc 4 laps Mitch Evans Double R Dallara-Merc 4 laps Roberto Merhi Prema Dallara-Merc 1 lap Daniel Abt Signature Dallara-VW 0 laps Richie Stanaway Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW 0 laps Laurens Vanthoor Signature Dallara-VW 0 laps Hironobu Yasuda Three Bond Dallara-Nissan 0 laps