Irwin full of eastern promise with pole in Macau
Glenn Irwin, on only his second visit to the 3.802 mile Macau Grand Prix street circuit, stormed to provisional pole on his Tak Chun Racing by PBM/Penz 13 Ducati in opening qualifying, 1.467secs faster than veteran and eight-time winner Michael Rutter.
Having opened proceedings in free practice for the 51st Macau Grand Prix in blistering style with a final lap of 2m 26.022secs, Irwin bided his time in first qualifying as Rutter on the Bathams BMW set the pace, the pair well clear of the rest of the pack.
Just as it looked that circuit knowledge and the smooth riding style of Rutter had won the day, Irwin in his final three lap stint looked less than smooth, but the transponder times showed that the 27-year-old Carrickfergus rider had put down the marker, topping the timesheets with a lap of 2m 24.310secs, taking 1.7secs off his free practice time to lead Rutter overnight and into final qualifying and 12-lap race tomorrow morning.
Irwin's time was 0.694secs off the long-standing lap record set in 2010 by Scot Stuart Easton.
Irwin said: "I got a bit confused and actually thought I was slower than last year, but I was a second faster with another qualifying to go, which is really positive.
"The good thing is the track is in good condition, especially after the typhoon that passed here.
"In qualifying you don't use hard tyres as you are always trying to go faster and faster, but I think we'll be clever and use hard tyres that we will use in the race for second qualifying."
Peter Hickman, winner of the last two Macau Grand Prix races, took his Bathams BMW into third position on the provisional grid, half a second behind Rutter with the Padgetts Honda of Conor Cummins a further two seconds back in fourth.
Cookstown BE rider Derek Sheils was sixth on the provisional leaderboard, a third of a second behind Martin Jessopp on the Riders BMW.
As for the rest of the Irish contingent, Lee Johnston was 12th on a BMW HP4, similarly mounted Michael Sweeney 17th and Davy Morgan on his Honda in 25th.
Fastest road racer in the world Dean Harrison, following his Ulster Grand Prix lap of 134.614mph, was well off the pace on his second visit to this 'holiday' race meeting, over eight seconds off Irwin's provisional pole lap.
Last year Irwin was the sensation of the meeting on his Macau debut, dicing with eventual winner Hickman and Rutter the whole race before being forced to retire on the penultimate lap.
After the early skirmishes this year the same three riders, plus Jessopp, Cummins and Sheils, look set to dominate final qualifying ahead of the 12-lap race scheduled for 7.40am our time tomorrow.
Irwin is looking to add a Macau Grand Prix win to his maiden North West 200 Superbike victory and BSB race victory in what should be an intriguing race of experience against raw talent.
•Movistar Yamaha's Valentino Rossi believes his team have "a long job" to fix the chassis problems with their M1 but is hopeful solutions will arrive at the next Sepang test in January.
Rossi focused on evaluating the M1's new motor at Valencia with it inside a 2016-spec chassis while team-mate Maverick Vinales was tasked with frame work but said the new powerplant will not fix their tyre wear problem - that has to come from the metal that holds it in place.
Yamaha will go to Sepang in just under two weeks with the same chassis options but Rossi is hopeful a new version will arrive for the following outing in Malaysia.
Rossi said: "For me, Yamaha have to do a long job with the balance of the bike."