This year's line-up at the Macau Grand Prix is being heralded as one of the most talented and competitive the event has ever seen, topped by a man who could well be a motor racing legend in the making, Japanese sensation Takuma Sato.

Sato's signing of a two-year deal with the Jordan Formula One squad this month makes him the first F1-contracted driver to compete in the Macau Grand Prix for sixteen years.

The 24-year-old, who began his racing career only four years ago having attended Japan's SRS-F school, financed by Honda and the Suzuka Circuit, dominated the ultra-competitive British Championship this year. He won twelve of the 26 races in the series with the highly successful Carlin Motorsport outfit, as well as notching up victories in two European F3 international events.

Sato's first race at Macau was the 1999 Ericsson Formula Challenge Race in an AF2000 machine. He won that race, but was less fortunate in his first F3 outing at Macau last year, when he ended his race in the barriers. Thus, he comes to Macau with unfinished business.

"That is the big one for sure," he said of the race while being introduced to the F1 world at Suzuka earlier this month, "My final target is obviously to win at Macau."

Although all eyes will be on Sato this year, the entry list is packed with talent from the British, French, German, Japanese and Australian series, many of whom will be determined to give the Japanese a run for his money.

One of the brightest stars in the line up is Sato's team-mate, Briton Anthony Davidson. The 2000 Formula Ford Festival champion was runner-up in the British Championship this year in only his second full season in single-seaters.

After an indifferent start to the year, he set pole position at the Oulton Park meeting in May and was a winner by the next round at Croft, before going on to dominate the FIA International F3 event on the picturesque Pau road circuit in France in June. Further victories followed, and test work for the F1 BAR team ensued. Confirmation of his seat at Carlin for 2002 came before the year ended, but Davidson's subsequent decision to opt out of the series to concentrate on F1 work makes him a favourite at Macau.

Third in the British Championship standings is Ulsterman Derek Hayes, who was the man pushing Sato the hardest at the start of the season. What Hayes has lacked in outright pace this year, he has more than made up for with startling consistency.

Joining the top three from the British series will be Italian Gianmaria Bruni, fifth in the championship and making his second attempt at victory at Macau, and Guernseyman Andy Priaulx, who finished eighth last year. Mark Taylor, who has recently re-signed for 2002 with the crack Manor Motorsport team, and who took pole position at the Spa Elf Masters international race, will be making his Macau debut, as will Frenchman Bruce Jouanny.

Heading the entry from the German Championship is this year's champion, Japan's Toshihiro Kaneishi with Bertram Schafer Racing. The final series standings were undecided until one week ago following an acrimonious finale at Hockenheim. Going in to the final round, Kaneishi was leading the championship, but his title hopes were apparently dashed when Frank Diefenbacher took the chequered flag. However, Diefenbacher was excluded from the results following a protest, an appeal against which was overturned, making Kaneishi series champion by four points.

Joining Kaneishi in the BSR line-up will be Italian Enrico Toccacelo, who finished fifth at Macau last year, and recently won the final round of the Russian F3 Championship.

Another man to watch will be Team Kolles Racing's Pierre Kaffer, the very same driver that lodged the protest against Diefenbacher. Kaffer took the chequered flag in leg one of last year's Macau Grand Prix, and has been on the pace all season, finishing fourth in the German series.

Also from the German series will be Joao Paulo de Oliveira with the Swiss Racing Team, Bjorn Wirdheim and Kosuke Matsuura both with the Prema Powerteam, and Italian Raffaele Giammaria.

The season has been a bumper one for Japanese drivers, taking the British, German and French F3 Championships.

Ryo Fukuda will return to Macau as French champion, determined to improve on his third placed finish last year. Fukuda notched up an impressive runner-up spot at Pau, and was once again on the pace at Zandvoort. He should be a favourite for victory at Macau with the Saulnier Racing outfit, given his experience and natural speed.

Also from the French series comes popular Portuguese racer Tiago Monteiro, returning to Macau for a fourth time. Monteiro has been a consistent winner in this, his fourth year in the category, and finished behind Fukuda in the series. A newcomer to Macau, however, is Monteiro's team mate, Frenchman Tristan Gommendy.

Another driver who looks set to be a front-runner is Frenchman Benoit Treluyer, winner of the Japanese Championship. Treluyer secured a front row slot alongside Sato at Zandvoort this year, but a stall on the startline put paid to any thoughts he had of doing battle against the Japanese, a situation he will be looking to reverse at Macau.

Series runner-up Paulo Montin, third at Macau last year, teams up with Macau rookie Sakon Yamamoto for the two-car Tom's campaign. Fourth placed championship driver Yuji Ide partners Frenchman and Macau regular Jonathan Cochet with the Signature team.

The Australian F3 series will be represented by Peter Hackett, who will drive the third Carlin Motorsport car alongside Sato and Davidson. Hackett learned his racecraft in Australia, rather than in Europe, and will therefore be an unknown to the rest of the field. He has been a front-runner in the fledgling Australian series this year and could provide some surprises at Macau.

Closer to home, Lei Kit Meng, Michael Ho and Jo Merszei will be flying the flag for Macau, while Hong Kong driver Marchy Lee, who raced at Pau and Zandvoort this year, will compete in the second Saulnier Racing machine.

The 48th Macau Grand Prix will be run on 18 November over two legs of 15 laps each. As last year, the winner will be the first driver to cross the finish line at the end of leg two, provided he has completed the maximum number of race laps over the two legs.

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