Superbike Extremists

Madness in Macau

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

It's 7 a.m., and the wind is blowing cold off the Pearl River delta as I huddle behind a black-and-yellow Armco barrier. I am waiting for the start of practice for the 2009 Macau Grand Prix. From the top of Guia Hill, I can hear the bikes screaming as they leave the pits and blast between the casinos and hotels that line the seafront of this former Portuguese Chinese colony.

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

As I ready my Nikons to capture the action, I notice that the streets are deserted. Nowhere else in the world can you get this close to motorcycle racing, but the thrill of this experience is limited to a lucky few wearing brightly colored "press on course" bibs. The local police—at best, uncommunicative and surly; at worst, armed and angry—allow no spectators to get near the 3.8-mile circuit.

By the time the riders get to Moorish Hill, they have negotiated the flat and flat-out lower section, a normally bustling four-lane city street that narrows at right-hand Lisboa Bend with its famous oily taxi rank before climbing San Francisco Hill toward Maternity Bend where, presumably, expectant mothers-to-be are lying in hospital beds listening to the noisy action.

The course changes here as it drops down through a series of swoops on a curiously uninhabited stretch of road—curious because this is one of the most densely populated cities on Earth. After passing a few inches beneath my lens, the riders plunge back down into the city, past the police station and noodle bars, before the road opens into a flat expanse of reclaimed land on which Macau continues its ever-expanding progress.

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

Dubbed "Las Vegas of the East," this Special Administrative Region of China is the only place in the country where gaming is permitted by the socialist state, the roulette and blackjack tables attracting millions of Chinese punters. GP week, held each November, is part of the tiny peninsula's marketing exercise to draw visitors from other parts of the world.

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

With absolutely no runoff at any of the corners and not a single straw bale in sight, the circuit is a big gamble for the roadracers who compete here. Unforgiving Armco and concrete walls that are designed more for Formula 3 drivers who compete here in the prestigious car race line the entire circuit. Riders are drawn into a high-speed game of precision cornering that is best described as "threading the needle."

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

I have a ringside seat. If I were foolish, I could reach out and brush the top of the guys' helmets as they pass under me. When I jam my camera lens against a crack in the barrier, I can see right into their eyes as they brush the steel with their armored shoulders. Where the steel ends, concrete begins; the barriers are lime-washed yellow so that when the riders brush against it, a bright daub is left on their leathers.

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson
Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

Macau used to be an end-of-season holiday race for GP riders; Kevin Schwantz won the event in 1988 riding almost all the way on the back wheel of his factory Suzuki RGV500. Times have changed, though, and Macau is now regarded as one of the world's top-four international "road races" along with the Isle of Man TT, North West 200 and Ulster GP.

Superbike Extremists

Superbike Extremists

Superbike ExtremistsStephen Davidson

If Macau reminds me of anything it is Rollerball—a gladiatorial contest of armored men dicing with death in a space from which no one can escape. Except Macau isn't fantasy, it's real.