History >> A glittering victory celebration in Macau
When Phoenix Racing travels to Australia in February to compete in the famous Bathurst 12 Hours with two Audi R8 LMS cars this won’t be the team’s first overseas commitment. In 1999, the debut year of Ernst Moser’s squad, the team embarked on its first big journey after the end of the Super Touring Cup (STW) season. The destination: Macau.
The new race team had bought its two former factory Audi A4 quattro (chassis ST26 and ST30) cars in Australia back then. “Without having looked at them,” as Team Manager Dirk Theimann recalls. When the STW season with drivers Michael Bartels and Arnd Meier ended team director Ernst Moser found that the A4 was a good fit for the regulations of the famous Macau Grand Prix. And when Bartels managed to inspire the enthusiasm of a strong partner – “TV Spielfilm” – the overseas trip was a done deal. The two vehicles were shipped to Asia by sea freight, with spare, parts, tools and other equipment stuffed into every nook and cranny of the interiors of both cars.
Macau, which was still a Portuguese colony in 1999, is notorious for its 6.115-kilometre street circuit. With the track running up- and downhill through the city, incredibly narrow sections lined by high walls on the left and right, a hairpin where, if all else fails, the car may have to be put in reverse: Macau is a gruelling drive with a high risk factor. Alongside a high-spirited Michael Bartels, Max Angelelli drove the second Phoenix A4. The Italian was considered a Macau expert and was “a familiar face” to Ernst Moser due to his time at Zakspeed.
This driver duo paid off. Bartels and Angelelli placed the two green Phoenix Audis on grid positions one and two, with Bartels (2m 29.064s) outperforming his team-mate (2m 30.270s) by a mere 1.2 seconds. Yet the team from Germany’s Eifel region hardly had any time to cheer. While the two seasoned campaigners manoeuvred their cars through the circuit’s maze of turns without a scratch a technical problem popped up. The electrical system on Angelelli’s A4 failed. Although the problem could be rectified with a makeshift solution for qualifying the team had to come up with a new cable harness for the race: but how? Dirk Theimann was in his element and started the search. He located a fitting cable harness in Ingolstadt and had it flown to Hong Kong where Hartmut Ganter received it. Ganter lived in Hong Kong and Theimann knew him from his days with Zakspeed’s F1 sponsor West. Theimann himself took the helicopter shuttle from Macau to Hong Kong and back … and the Phoenix crew had their work cut out for them instead of spending the race-free Saturday doing other things.
The effort did not go unrewarded as Bartels quickly and safely circled the Phoenix A4 designated as car number 53 to victory in the first race and Angelelli took a podium too, in third place. Bartels tackled the second event with prudence, did not take any risks and, while Angelelli retired due to a defective drive shaft, finished the race as the runner-up and took a much-noted overall victory. “This was Phoenix’s first win, the jubilation was huge – an incredible feeling, “says Ernst Moser, still beaming today as he recalls the emotions back then.
After the victory Team Manager Dirk had another special task to solve. At first, the organisers were not willing to hand over the prize money that had been announced in the fine print, but Theimann insisted. He finally received the money, albeit in Macau dollars which could not be exchanged or taken out of the country.
The Phoenix squad, known to never turn down a chance to party anyhow, exuberantly celebrated their victory with both drivers. The team went all out because the prize money was a considerable sum that had to be spent. This party “gave birth” to a tradition that has continued to this day: the “cigar afterwards” that Ernst Moser has been smoking with great enjoyment after each victory since Macau. The “Mandarin Oriental” hotel had a “walk-in humidor” which impressed Ernst Moser so much that he took a cigar despite having successfully quit smoking several years before. “So I was sitting in a corner of the lounge and bar, enjoyed my cigar and kept giving the guys more Macau dollars as they were refilling the winner’s cup with champagne over and over,” recalls Ernst Moser. “It was really a bash and simply marvellous. Jenson Button and his father joined the Phoenix squad’s exuberant celebration at the hotel’s bar and lounge – the subsequent Formula 1 world champion had finished the Formula 3 GP as the runner-up which gave him more than a good reason to have a big bash. One of the Phoenix mechanics, Martin “Alesi” Rose, even wouldn’t even let go of the “cup” any more. Says Ernst Moser:”Alesi carried the heavy trophy all the way through Macau and practically held on to it until we arrived back home in the Eifel."