Most top-level sportsmen deserve unconditional respect and admiration, although the prerequisite swingers for pure road racing swing my vote of nepotism any day. I honestly can’t understand how these boys even sit down with balls that big and this notion was amplified after watching Peter Hickman’s astonishing onboard footage from this year’s Macau Grand Prix. It’s almost as incredible as the man himself offering us the video to use and abuse, which we duly accepted. The sense of speed in glorious HD is magnified as the streets of Macau become a blurry chaos of black and yellow – like a bumblebee being squashed and spread across a canvas, or something.
Although he comes across as a nice guy sans helmet, Hickman is a ruthless muthafucka onboard a motorcycle. He’s gone from a tradesman scurrying around for sponsorship to pay for racing, to winning British Superbike races, being the fastest newcomer at the TT, and blagging a factory-backed Kawasaki seat with GB Moto. This rapid rise among racing royalty has led to Hicky attracting a fresh and unwilling nickname of ‘Factory.’
After a crash in qualifying snapped his Beemer’s headstock, Hickman didn’t actually race last year. On only his second visit to Macau, he annihilated some hefty opposition to take the win in 2015. Surely a little bit of poo comes out on a regular basis during a lap of Macau? “Even at the TT and as dangerous as it is, there are quite a few areas where you’ve got some sort of escape, and/or you can go in between trees and end up in a field, whereas at Macau there’s none of that: there are brick walls and Armco, and that’s it,” says Factory. “It’s a place where you do not want to crash one little bit. The other thing with it is, you can’t see through any of the corners. You’re always blind and can never see what’s round the corner, and because of that, it all looks very similar.
“The middle of the course is pretty much three chicanes. The first one is medium speed, the second one is really fast and the third one is actually quite slow. But, when you approach them, they all look the same. It’s also very slippery initially. The bikes are the first out, and there have been cars that drive the circuit for 12 months and drop oil, and some that haven’t even moved for 12 months and are moved just for the race. The first session is a bit shite to be honest but once the cars have been out, they actually clean it up a bit.”
Hickman quickly learnt the TT and wanted the Mountain course to be akin to his daily commute, knowing every nook and cranny of its 37 and ¾ miles. Learning the streets of Macau was a very different affair. “I’m not going to just nip over there on a 14 hour flight and have a look. I watched a lot of onboard videos and once I got there, we did a lap on a bus which was good as you’re up a bit higher and can see everything. I also did a few laps in a taxi, although you can’t actually drive the whole circuit as we race it. Only about 90% of it.
“I went out really late this year, as I was testing in Spain with my new team. I was only there for four days, unlike everyone else! It takes about a week to get over the jetlag but I only landed in Macau at 6.30 in the evening – and the riders’ briefing was a 7pm. At 7.30am the next morning, we were on circuit. Yes, it was tight, and I was hanging the next day. To be fair, the first session I was alright but the afternoon qualifying, I was dead. It was also 32 degrees and 80% humidity, so it was pretty frickin’ hot. The next day, I woke up fresh and qualified on the front row which was mega. And the good thing for me was that most of the other riders on the grid used qualifying rubber, so I knew I was in a good position for the race.
“Macau is an amazing place. It’s obviously a money city, which is really why it exists. Gambling is illegal in China so they all walk over the border and come to Macau. For them, the Grand Prix is their whole year, their highlight of the season. The whole event is based around cars but when the bikes come out, everyone gets really excited about them. At the end of the day, the car drivers have cages to protect them. We don’t have anything.”
For the majority of riders competing at the Macau Grand Prix, it’s also a chance to unwind, indulge in a blow-out and some dirty shagging, get a bit loose, and jump on a plane to nearby Thailand following a season of purity. But this newfound factory status scuppered such plans. “I wanted to have a holiday in Thailand but I didn’t even stay for the presentation. I did the race and flew out on the Sunday to go straight to Jerez for some more testing.”
And being the grand episode that it is, we guess the winnings went a long way to that Ferrari? “No chance! I think it states on the website that winning Macau nets you 32,000 Hong Kong Dollars, and an extra $3,000 for the fastest lap. So I walked away with $35,000, which when I went to exchange came to a grand total of £2,600.”
A massive thanks to Factory for the raw footage.