Macau Grand Prix installs ‘soft walls’ for added safety

This year’s Macau Grand Prix will have, for the first time, “soft wall” safety barriers installed.

Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barriers will be installed on Turns 1 and 2 (Reservoir and Mandarin Bend), the two fastest bends of Guia Street Circuit in order to increase safety for all vehicles racing on the track, but namely for the Formula 3 (F3) cars, said Vice President of the Automobile General Association Macao-China (AAMC) Herculano Ribeiro yesterday during a media gathering event organized by the 66th Macau Grand Prix Organizing Committee (MGPOC).

MGPOC presented further details on the changes to be enforced at this year’s event regarding the circuit’s safety. The inclusion of these barriers on the fastest bends was one of the measures announced, with a total of six points to be addressed this year.

Other changes will be made to T3 (Lisboa Bend), T4 (São Francisco Bend), T15 (Police Bend) and T23 (R Bend).

There will be a major change to Lisboa Bend, with the enlargement of the buffer zone. This was announced at last month’s press conference, but was now explained in further detail. According to MGPOC Sporting Subcommittee Coordinator and President of AAMC Chong Coc Veng, the “idea at Lisboa [Bend] is to match the width of the track with the buffer zone, so in case of need to make use of the area, the drivers do not need to turn left into it but instead, [can] just go straight.”

Questioned by the media if the serious accident at last year’s F3 race led to other reinforcements in that area, the official said, “not for the time being. We will enforce this change [to] the buffer zone and then, during the final inspection by FIA [International Automobile Federation], if we see that we need to reinforce any details, we can still do it.”

As for the T4 and T23 changes, Tecpro Barriers will be installed instead of the commonly used tire walls. The new material provides added energy absorption, reducing the force of impact and reducing damage to vehicles during a crash. Macau had already started using these a few years ago, namely on the Fishermen’s Bend.

On R Bend, besides the inclusion of Tecpro Barriers, the barrier area will also increase by another 15 meters in length in the direction of the finish line.

Last but not least, changes to Police Bend are related to the prolongation of the tire barrier into the Moorish hill area.

Ribeiro reaffirmed what Chong had previously said on the topic, saying, “all these changes have the purpose of complying with demands for the upgrade of [the Guia Circuit] to FIA Grade 2.”

Questioned by the media on when the upgrade will be finished, Chong said, “it is not yet finished. Only after the construction of the circuit is complete will [it] be subjected to a final evaluation from the FIA.”

SAFER barriers, generically named “soft walls,” were developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s and are found on many racing circuits, namely the oval automobile racetracks (US Indy and NASCAR Series) as well as high-speed sections of road and street tracks.

By using a mix of tube metal sections stacked together, and a middle section of high-density foam between the metal part of the barrier and the concrete wall, soft walls absorb and reduce kinetic energy during a high-speed crash, lessening the injuries sustained by drivers and spectators.

This technology was initially designed by a team of engineers led by Dean Sicking at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and was first installed on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002.

Electronic flag system to be trialed

During the event, AAMC technical support member Armando de Jesus noted that the electronic flag system would be used in Macau for the first time. It will be installed at 10 different points on the circuit and its use will be evaluated, with the aim of a possible expansion in the coming years.

In response to media enquiries, Chong clarified that the electronic flag system would not replace the work of marshals, who will continue to be present in the same numbers. It will instead, aim to provide drivers and riders with extra help and added information on any situation on the track, especially in areas where there are fewer marshal posts.

“[Physical] flags are always the priority,” Chong remarked.

De Jesus noted that the particularities of the local circuit justify the new addition even more, saying, “Macau is very special. Bends are ‘blind’ and drivers do not have any idea of what they find after the bend, so the [prompt display of] flags [will] have an even more important role here [than on other circuits].”

MGPOC notes difficulties in media coverage

Questioned by the Times on the constant reduction of the number of on-track areas available for the photojournalistic coverage of the event, as well as other difficulties encountered by the media, MGPOC president Pun Weng Kun acknowledged the problem, noting that for safety and other reasons some changes to the field had to be made over the years.

While Pun was aware that every year, the Grand Prix attracts many local, regional and international media organizations that bring over 1,000 media professionals to the region, he said that MGPOC has been struggling with the lack of options for these professionals. But nevertheless, Pun promised to try to improve on this and offer the media a wider range of locations to cover the event.

Luca Engstler to replace Farfus on Macau’s WTCR Race

Luca Engstler (center)

German driver Luca Engstler has been chosen by the BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team to replace Brazilian Augusto Farfus during the Macau round of World Touring Car Cup (WTCR).

The announcement was made yesterday by the team ahead of the already announced participation of Farfus in the FIA GT World Cup where he is going to defend last year’s title achieved with the BMW-Schnitzer Team.

It will be the first time that 19-year-old Engstler races in Macau after the young driver’s successful campaign with Hyundai Motorsport’s Customer Racing Junior Driver initiative that clinched the TCR Malaysia and TCR Asia titles, winning also several races in TCR Europe and TCR China.

On the topic, Engstler was quoted on the WTCR website saying, “I’m really happy to have this chance to race in the WTCR; it’s a huge opportunity. It will be a new track for me, and I expect the weekend to be very physical with three races on a very demanding street circuit.”  RM

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