Charles Leong claims second place for Theodore Blackjack Racing
Theodore Blackjack Racing's Charles Leong remains on course to complete a hat-trick of Macau Grand Prix wins after securing second place in Saturday's Qualifying Race and, with it, a place on the front row for Sunday's main event.
An uncharacteristic accident in qualifying had left the home favourite on the back foot, and lining up on the inside of row two for the first of the weekend's two races, but Leong was in no mood to dwell on what might have been, diving up the inside of polesitter Chang Wing Chung at Mandarin to take the race lead. With Chang then having to take to the run-off at Lisboa to avoid a collision with another car, Leong was able to break away from the chasing pack, showing great commitment around the tight Guia Circuit at the wheel of the #11 Theodore Blackjack Racing Mygale.
While Leong continued to extend his advantage, team-mate Li Sicheng had also taken advantage of Chang's error to move up to third position, but everything would change with the appearance of the safety car early in the eight-lap encounter.
Even as Leong left the pack in his rear-view mirrors, the #77 entry of Wong Yiu Ming hit the wall at Fisherman’s Bend, initially bringing out double waved yellow flags before race control decided that the safety car was required to control the pace while the stricken car was recovered and the barriers repaired.
Leong was able to retain his lead at the restart but, with the pack now bunched up behind him, came under pressure from Xie Wing Lam Gerrard, who had given increasingly distant pursuit of the #11 from the original start. Although able to resist Xie's initial attempts to wrest the lead, Leong could not hold on forever and dropped to second place as the top two charged through Lisboa on lap five.
Once ahead, Xie proved unable to shake the Macanese driver from his tail, with Leong looking for any opportunity to retake the lead. An attempt at Lisboa on the penultimate lap was the closest the two-time GP winner would come, however, and Leong spent the remainder of the race hoping that Xie would crack under his continued pressure and make a mistake. The error never came and, despite Leong's best efforts over the final lap, he had to settle for second place.
Behind the top two, Li maintained the final spot on the podium for much of the race but was ultimately caught by recovering polesitter Chang. Despite putting up a spirited defence of his position, Li succumbed on the final lap, eventually dropping away from his rival before taking the chequered flag in fourth place.
Charles Leong confirmed, "Today, my race start was good, and I managed to snatch P1 and pull out a two-second lap by the end of the first lap, I could see myself pulling away, but we had a badly-timed safety car kind of ruined our plan.
"When the race resumed, my rival had a good tow from me and passed me with a significant speed difference. I felt that our front-line performance was worse than it had been on Friday, but the main reason we didn’t bring back the victory today was the unlucky safety car that closed the pack. Nevertheless, second is a good result for the grid tomorrow, so I hope to have good start and go one step further."
Li Sicheng noted, "This year’s competition is more fierce than ever, I was unlucky not to be able to defend the podium position on the last lap, but I believe I have the pace and will perform better tomorrow."
The result means that the two Theodore Blackjack cars will start line astern in the 12-lap Grand Prix on Sunday, as Leong chases the history that a third successive Macau triumph would bring, and Li seeks to upgrade his starting position for a spot on the podium.