Michael Rutter takes early pole, but Carrick debutant impresses
Michael Rutter set the provisional pole time in the opening qualifying session for Saturday's 50th Anniversary Suncity Group Macau Grand Prix. This gives the 44-year-old, riding the Batham's SMT BMW, a great opportunity to record his ninth career win on the Armco lined Guia circuit in the Far East.
Martin Jessop currently holds second spot on the Riders BMW S1000RR, just 0.9 seconds down on Rutter, with a further 1.6 seconds separating the Yeovil man and Tyco BMW's Ian Hutchinson in third.
Ahead of today's second and final qualifying session, Carrick's Glenn Irwin, who is making his debut at this year's event with the all-conquering PBM Ducati team, was seventh quickest, albeit just 0.4 seconds down on Tyco BMW's Ian Hutchinson in third.
It was an impressive session from Irwin, who is still getting to grips with the undulating, sinuous and highly dangerous 3.8-mile circuit, but also loving the experience, as he confided.
"I'm running on adrenalin," said the highly charged Ulsterman. "It's a crazy place but good fun, but so much different from the North West 200 or Ulster Grand Prix."
Recounting his first experience of the track, he said: "It's frightening to be honest, but I did a lot of work before I got here, so I wasn't confused about where I was going. In the first qualifying session I got behind the Hutchy group and had to push to stay with them and wasn't enjoying it if I'm honest."
After coming in to get a pep talk from his crew, he said candidly: "The boys told me to calm down and smooth it out as I'd been running wide and being too aggressive, and when I did that I immediately dropped two seconds from my lap time.
"I did the same again on my next stint and dropped another two seconds," explained Irwin, before adding confidently. "I'm expecting to drop another couple of seconds from my lap time on Friday in Qualifying 2; then in the race I know I can run top five, but I'll be targeting a podium. I think it's realistic."
Concluding, he said: "It's a tight track when you walk it, but at race pace it looks so narrow, although I'm now starting to enjoy it. I'm just doing my own thing, but I could do with some sleep - that would really help!"
2001 winner John McGuinness put his Honda in a provisional second row grid spot with fourth place in the opening qualifying session, just 3/100ths of a second down on the all-BMW front row of Rutter, Jessopp and Hutchinson.
Gary Johnston [Penz13 BMW] and Horst Saiger [Kawasaki] were fifth and sixth, with Irwin on the PBM Ducati being joined on the provisional third row by Conor Cummins [Honda] and last year's winner Peter Hickman.
Four-time winner Stuart Easton was 10th and disappointingly, 4.3 seconds off the pace on the third of the Batham's SMT BMWs. Irishman Derek Sheils was a steady 12th aboard the Cookstown B.E. Racing Suzuki and well capable of a top ten finish.