Wednesday, July 30, 2014   




Historic triumph turns Couto into unlikely local hero

John Carney

Monday, November 20, 2000

WHAT started as a day of tragedy ended in delirious celebration when

Macau's Andre Couto, 24, made history by winning the 47th Macau Grand

Prix yesterday.

It marked the first time a Macanese driver has won the Formula 3 title

and Couto's victory touched off scenes of jubilation which have never

been seen before on the world-famous street circuit.

"It has been a bad year for me in Formula 3; the worst year of my

life in motor racing, so to win this at my sixth attempt is

unbelievable," he said.

"I consider myself Macanese, so it's a great moment for me.

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"Macau is my home. I moved here when I was four from Portugal but my

mother and all her side of the family are from Macau.

"This win proves I can win races at the very highest level and I want

to prove I can go on to race in Formula 1."

There was hardly any indication that the day would end on a glorious

note.

Racing got off to a worst-possible start when, during warm-up for the

Guia race, the brake of Frans Verschuur's Renault Megane malfunctioned

at the Lisboa Bend and the car careened down an escape road into two

pedestrians, killing one.

Any hope of locals basking in glory in the Grand Prix itself looked

extinguished when Asia's best, India's Narain Karthikeyan, 24, and

Japan's Takuma Sato, 23, crashed out of contention in leg one.

Both drivers headed the grid but what should have been nothing more

than a warm-up in their vastly superior Mugen Honda-powered Dallara

F300's ended in disaster.

Karthikeyan and Sato needed only to remain on the track to maintain

their positions going into the winner-take-all second leg, but the

task proved beyond them.

The lapses in concentration meant they started at the back of the grid

for the decisive second leg with no chance of success.

But Couto saved the day after a battle royale with Italy's Paulo

Montin.

Starting second on the grid for the decider, Couto, driving for Opel

Team BSR, took the lead immediately and fought off the intentions of

Montin, 24, and Japan's Ryo Fukada, 21.

When Robert Lechner crashed with two laps to go, the safety car was

called out and the drivers drove in formation behind it to the

chequered flag.

"I don't care how I won, the main thing is that I did," Couto said.

"Even if the safety car had not been called out, Paulo (Montin) would

have found it very hard to pass me.

"Last year I was in contention but made a bad mistake and didn't

finish the race. This time I used all my experience to make sure it

didn't happen again."

Both Karthikeyan and Sato refused to comment on their first-leg

disasters but team manager Trevor Carlin could not hide his

frustration.

"It's unprintable how I feel; it was basically a disaster," he said.

"Sato may have had some dirt on his tyres which caused him to lose

some grip going into Lisboa (Bend) but he didn't need to push so hard

anyway.

"Karthikeyan was then ahead and setting the fastest lap times when he

under-steered and crashed out.

"The team plan was whoever was first going into the first bend would

stay clear so there was no need to push hard after that.

"Both crashed out in the lead. All they had to do was drive within

themselves and then go for it in the second leg but that's finished

now.

"It's stupid really; it was unnecessary to go so strongly.

"From the evidence available it is all down to driver error; the cars

are running perfectly.

"I feel sorry for the back-up team because they put too much work."

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END


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