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In its heyday Hong Kong was known as a party city for ex-pats from England and the Macau Grand Prix was the pinnacle of this lavish lifestyle. Racecar aficionado Teddy Yip almost single-handedly transformed the small city. Today his son is continuing the family legacy by following in the motor racing tradition.
Text: Charlotte Mountford
Photos: Courtesy of Status Grand Prix
Region: Hong Kong

he Macau Grand Prix today is a bunch of high octane formula three drivers from the world stage! Not an amateur in sight,” Michael Stapleton, a Hong Kong shipbroker for many years tells TeaTime-Mag. “Compared to the race’s beginnings, it’s night and day.”

Hong Kong was once an epicenter of English colonial culture, an outpost of millionaires, ambassadors, and suave “ex-pats,” fairly awash with opulence during the late ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

And the Macau Grand Prix, started by entrepreneur, motor sports lover, and Dutch National Teddy Yip on nearby Macau Peninsular in the 1950’s, was a huge part of Hong Kong’s partying past.

Today Hong Kong, handed over by the British to the Chinese in 1997, is a modern economic hub – if no longer a British party capital.

However the party continues in Macau. Tourism booms, casinos abound, and happily many of the cobbled streets and Portuguese colonial buildings (Macau was governed by Portugal until 1999) have been carefully preserved.

This was not always the case. In the 1950’s Macau was a sleepy backwater-haven for arms dealers, spies, opium traders and small-time gamblers – Hong Kong having usurped Macau as the main trading post over a century prior. Then in 1954 Teddy Yip and the Macau Grand Prix changed the peninsula’s fortunes.

“Teddy Yip started the Grand Prix in 1954, and I went in 1961 for the first time,” says Stapleton. “Back then Macau was a rambling port town with cobbled streets and no tall buildings. The race track went around the streets as it does today, but it was even more dangerous; there were lamp posts on every corner- and maybe a couple of straw bales, but certainly no crash barriers.”

“I remember a friend of mine had a car he was going to race in Macau in 1964. He nearly killed himself and his fiancée in the practice run. He turned the car over and the whole thing caught on fire. They both survived but the car certainly didn’t!”

Today the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix (the highlight of the annual Macau Grand Prix) still runs around a challenging street circuit. “But in those days it was small and there were no big names like , David Coulthard, or Mika Häkkinen, who came years later, using Macau as a stepping stone to Formula One,” explains Stapleton.

“And the cars were everything from supped up Jags and Lotus Cortinas to someone who’d put together a pram! It was nail-biting stuff. If you made the slightest mistake in the car that was the end of you.”

There are, amongst others, the motorcycle race and different saloon cars events. “It’s a mix that still makes Macau G.P. unique today, but the F3 Grand Prix was always the main event,” he says.

It was also a huge social event, “we would go over from Hong Kong for the weekend. It was a great party. And Teddy Yip was the father of it all,” explains Stapleton. “His house was right on the race track. When there were no cars going round, you would walk out of his garage and be on the circuit.”

“The change was gradual. Over the years the Grand Prix became more sophisticated as tourism on the peninsular also boomed, which Yip and his business partners were greatly involved in and encouraged. I wouldn’t recognise Macau today if I went there.”

Yip was a legendary figure, as his son, Teddy Yip, Jr., who also excels in the motor racing world, tells TeaTime-Mag.

“My father’s life was incredible. He was really across all of motor sports for a decade or more. And he was the centre of these amazing parties. He was all about that. I remember being a little kid, going to some of those things – huge gala evenings – although I was still a small child in the ’80s, I remember them, the excitement, the energy.”

Teddy Yip, who spoke six Chinese dialects, Dutch, English, French, German, Malay, and Thai, and who was described by the L.A. Times as among their “top three most unforgettable characters,” passed away in 2003 in his 90’s.

While Yip made his fortune trading in the Far East he was frequently quoted saying “it doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.”

Yip took part in Macau as a driver for the first time in 1954 and finished third for his best result in 1958. But it was his involvement as a financial backer that gave him his greatest successes in the sport.

People say they cannot remember him not smiling, and many fantastic tales surround Yip and Macau in the 80’s. As one story goes, when Teddy Yip was displeased with the food the chefs on the Queen Mary prepared, he brought his own chefs in from Macau.

Another time he had his prize racing car crane-lifted onto the boat decks so guests could better admire it. When this meant a technical inspection was missed and a fine of $10,000 USD due, he simply smiled and paid. As per the Yip Philosophy: “Today never comes back, you’ve got to enjoy it.”

“There’s no real doubt my father’s racing legacy is why I’m so drawn to motor sports,” Says Yip, Jr., “just by being exposed to it – that’s what was going on when I was a kid. It was mainly happening in Macau with Formula Three and a little later on in the U.S. with Formula One as well.”

After winning the 2009 Championship with his own A1 racing team, Teddy Yip, Jr., now races GP3 with his team Status Grand Prix. “We are making moves,” he says tellingly, “I can’t officially say anything yet but we have got some pretty exciting things in the pipeline.…”

One thing Yip Jr. can confirm is his team’s presence at that other prestigious street-circuit event, Monaco, in May. “This will be the first year Monaco will have a GP3 event so it’s very exciting,” says Yip Jr., who has been attending Monaco with his family for years.

Teddy Yip, Jr., dreams of his team competing at Macau one day. “I would really love to,” he says, “although they don’t yet race GP3 at Macau – maybe one day they will” he smiles. “It’s a phenomenal place, and racing there would be very special for me.”

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