Bird frustrated after having Macau wings clipped
1 January 1901
“This year, I would like to go one better and win the race outright, [but] street races are unpredictable and you need a slice of good fortune to go all the way" - so said Sam Bird on the eve of this year's Macau F3 Grand Prix. Little did he know how apposite his preview would become.
The Briton saw his, and Manor Motorsport's, bid for glory in the 55th Macau spectacular come unstuck in typical fashion when he was eliminated on the opening lap of the main event Sunday, having earlier established himself as a contender for victory with a strong qualifying and race one performance on the notorious Guia street circuit.
As the quickest of Manor's three participants during Friday's qualifying, Bird produced the second fastest time of the weekend, missing out on pole position during the final seconds of the session before a three-place grid penalty - for missing a weigh-bridge check in practice - dropped him to fifth for race one.
Knowing that second qualifying would be the session that counted, he timed his assault nicely, becoming the first driver to break into the 2min 11s with less than four minutes remaining - and just as Kei Cozzolino brought out the red flag by hitting the wall at Fisherman's. Just as it appeared that Bird may at least be able to lay claim to the fastest time of the weekend, however, the debris was cleared and the entire field was given one last shot at pole.
Bird was already three-tenths up on his own time, and looking set to put pole position well beyond anyone's reach, when he was forced to abort his lap when two cars crashed ahead of him and blocked part of the track. Carlo van Dam, however, was ahead of the incident, and took full advantage of a clear track to improve on the pole time by a tenth of a second.
Despite the setback, however, the Briton navigated his way through the usual carnage to claim fifth place and a similar starting position for the blue riband Grand Prix with a great chance of battling for at least a podium.
However, as his pre-race views came back to haunt him, Bird's participation in the main race lasted only as far as the run to Mandarin Bend. Having made a trademark getaway and moved into third ahead of Roberto Streit, things were looking good for the Briton - only for his rival to collide with the Noble Group-backed Manor entry, resulting in a double retirement. Streit was later fined for causing the accident, but that was scant consolation to Bird and Manor.
"I was quick enough for the front row in qualifying, and stayed out of trouble [in the qualifying race] when the car wasn't quite right," a frustrated Bird sighed, "Then, I made a great start today and honestly thought I had a good chance of winning. To have it taken away by such a silly move by another driver is just so frustrating.
“To say that I am bitterly disappointed right now is an understatement but, in a few days, I will be able to reflect about the good things that I have achieved here over the past few days and will bounce back as always!
"I want to say a special thanks to the Noble Group for sponsoring me to take part here, to Manor for preparing a great car for me and to my managers at CJ Motorsport for making it all possible.”
Manor team-mates Jon Lancaster and Kazuya Oshima finished eleventh and 16th respectively, with the Briton - making his competitive Manor and Macau debuts - finishing right on the tail of 2008 British F3 champion Jaime Alguersuari.
“We're very disappointed with how the race turned out for Sam, as we had the pace to be on the podium for sure - and probably fight for the win too," Manor boss John Booth commented, "The contact from Roberto ruined that.
“Jon had a decent run on his first time at Macau. He missed a lot of track time during a couple of the sessions during the build-up, so to finish just outside the top ten wasn't bad at all - he can take a lot of positives from that.
“Kazuya had to start down in 23rd after a broken gearbox ruled him out of Saturday's qualification race, and then he got a broken wing at the first corner bottleneck so that made things very difficult for him.
"It's been a disappointing visit to Macau for us in the end but, as Sam proved in qualifying, we had a very quick car and the potential to do very well.”