The Macau Grand Prix: The Complete Guide

Eight F3 race cars driving in the Macao grand prix
Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images

Each year the revving of engines can be heard in Macao, echoing across the waters of the reservoir by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The stop clock begins and the air of the Macau Peninsula vibrates with the speed (up to 174 mph) of Formula 3 cars racing around the Guia Circuit. A driver's reputation is made here. Do they have the precision to make the curve of the 22-foot-wide Melco Hairpin? Will they be overtaken in the straight before the Lisboa Bend? Will they crash, and if they do, will they survive? These questions are in the minds of everyone—racers and spectators alike—who attends the annual Macau Grand Prix.

What Makes the Macau Grand Prix Unique

The Macau Grand Prix is distinguishable from other races in both its organization and course. It is the only race in the world that hosts motorcycle, twin-seat cars, and F3 single-seat racers in the same weekend. The course itself, the Guia Circuit, is famed for being both one of the most difficult and most enjoyable circuits in street racing. The two major reasons for this are its long main straight which allows greater opportunity for overtaking than most street races, and a 100-foot variation in track altitude. Cars and drivers must be able to handle steep climbs and insane turns, sometimes directly after a long straight. The motorcycle race is no easier, with the margin of error on a turn sometimes being only 4 inches.

The Macau Formula Three Grand Prix is the main race. In it, drivers compete for the FIA F3 World Cup. Drivers come to prove their mettle, not just in Macao but in the racing world at large. The precision and intelligence it takes to race the Guia Circuit is what Formula 1 teams are looking for from drivers on the junior spectrum wishing to advance to the big leagues. F1 greats like Ayrton Senna da Silva and Michael Schumacher are among several big names who conquered Macao on their trajectory to the F1 racing circuit.

History of the Macau Grand Prix

Originally conceived by three car-loving Macao residents—Fernando Macedo Pinto, Carlos Silva, and Paulo Antas—the idea for the Macau Grand Prix was born one day over coffee at the Riviera Hotel. With the help of the Hong Kong Motor Sports Club, the race became a reality. In 1954, 15 motor enthusiasts raced down a partial dirt road and sand-strewn track for 51 laps in the first Macau Grand Prix.

It continued as an amateur race in its first years, with drivers consisting of war vets, doctors, pilots, and those who simply loved speed and had access to a fast car. Soon, the road had more asphalt laid, concrete grandstands installed, and the official Guia Circuit route set at 3.8 miles (6.2 kilometers).

Thirteen years after the first race, the Macau Grand Prix had its first professional driver compete. A year later the motorcycle race was added, the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix. More professional drivers continued to enter the race in the following years, and organizers considered turning the event into an F1 event. However, since the Guia Circuit was on an urban road surrounded by priceless cultural heritage sites and architectural wonders, the modifications deemed necessary to alter the track to comply with F1 standards could not be met.

Eventually in 1983, organizers decided to change the Macau Grand Prix from a Formula Pacific event to an official F3 event, thus continuing the legacy of one of the most iconic circuits in professional racing.

Date and Location

The race occurs annually, generally on the third weekend of November. Practices begin on Thursday and the final races happen Sunday. The race takes place on the southeastern portion of the Macau Peninsula, on Guia Circuit. The circuit weaves around UNESCO World Heritage sites, casinos, schools, and hospitals.

Getting Tickets to the Macau Grand Prix

To sit in the official grandstands, purchase tickets online or in person at official ticket vendors in Macao, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. You can even buy them at ticket stands in Macao on race days. Alternatively, there are spots along the circuit you can see the race from without buying a ticket, like the rooftops of some hotels, flyovers, and bridges. If you have a good pair of binoculars, great views can be seen from the top of Guia Hill as well.

Race Day Tips

  • The Lisboa Bend is the best official grandstand to watch from on race day. This is the spot where cars overtake one another after the main straight, and it’s also where pileups generally occur in the opening laps. However, the extra thrills come at a price, as the most expensive tickets are for this section.
  • You can enter and exit the grandstands whenever you like, just keep your tickets to show if need be.
  • Allow extra time for traffic, if you are not within walking distance of where you will watch the race. Particularly, traffic around the Macau Outer Ferry Terminal will be the most congested part of the city.
  • If you want to be in Macao and see the races without going down to the Guia Circuit, head to Senado Square, where a large screen is temporarily set up to see the races. You’ll also be able to hear the races from there.
  • The Macao Food Festival tends to overlap with the Grand Prix and offers a wide variety of lunch and dinner options. Find it at the rotunda opposite the Macau Tower.
  • Many of the hotels also have buffet lunches on race days. Head to the rooftop of one (like the Grand Lapa) for a comfortable seat with a great view of the circuit.
  • When the race day ends, the party begins. Check out Club Cubic at the City of Dreams for international DJs and dancing at the Macau Grand Prix After Party.