From Senna to Leclerc: The Macau GP team breeding stars for 50 years

The Macau Grand Prix’s reputation as a breeding ground for stars is inextricably linked to the Theodore Racing team — a marque that launched some of the biggest names in motorsport including the late, great Ayrton Senna.

And the team may give fans a tantalising glimpse of some future stars when the lights go out on Sunday’s 70th-anniversary edition in the southern Chinese city.

Theodore Racing managing director David Kennedy told AFP that any of the Formula 3 team’s current three young drivers are capable of making the grade at the top level.

Gabriele Mini of Italy, who is 18, and the 19-year-old pair of Swedish-Bosnian Dino Beganovic and Paul Aron of Estonia have been making waves in the FIA F3 World Cup this season.

“It’s paper thin between the three, thousandths of seconds only,” Kennedy said Saturday.

The talented trio’s exploits have not gone unnoticed.

All have been picked up by F1 junior teams — Beganovic by Ferrari, Aron by Mercedes and Mini by Alpine.

– ‘A long future’ –
“You can only see them at the level they are racing at and sometimes it is hard to see how high that elevator of talent will go,” Kennedy added.

“But I can tell you these three boys have a long future.”

The Irishman should know.

Kennedy has been associated with Hong Kong businessman Teddy Yip’s family and their Theodore Racing team for almost 50 years, first as a driver.

He has witnessed a succession of world champions, from Senna to Mika Hakkinen, drive in their red, white and orange livery.

Yip formed the team in 1973, first winning the grand prix in the southern Chinese resort city the following year with Australia’s Vern Schuppan at the wheel.

The team also raced in the US and in 1976 became the first and only Chinese constructor to line up in Formula One.

But it was in Macau, where the team is back this week for the first time in four years because of Covid-19, that Theodore Racing made an indelible mark.

Senna famously took the chequered flag in 1983, and of the 26 drivers who competed at Macau’s demanding Guia street circuit for Theodore between 1978 and 1992, a staggering 25 went on to take a place on the Formula One grid.

Four went on to become F1 world champions: Senna, Keke Rosberg, Hakkinen and Alan Jones.

The team did not race in Macau after 1992 until Yip’s son, Teddy Jr., revived it in 2008.

It has continued, in some style, to build on the legacy of Yip Sr., who helped create the original Macau Grand Prix, and who passed away in 2003, aged 96.

In the last decade, eight Theodore Racing drivers — Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Zhou Guanyu, Nicholas Latifi, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nyck de Vries — have made it to F1.

– Pick and shovel –
The 70-year-old Kennedy’s route into motorsport is the stuff of legend.

Born in Dublin in 1953, a teenage Kennedy stunned his parents by declaring he wanted to be a racing driver and his determination was unstoppable.

“We didn’t even have a proper circuit in Ireland,” he recalled.

“So I went to the (iron ore) mines in Australia and worked with a pick and shovel for six months. The money I made, I came back and I bought a new racing car.

“I became Irish champion and I went over and won two British championships. Then I knew I was good; before, I only thought I was good,” he smiled.

“I often say you drive as hard as you work. And I worked harder than anyone.” (AFP)

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