Honda Racing’s John McGuinness has marked himself out as a serious contender for his second victory in the 49th Suncity Group Macau Grand Prix in the Far East tomorrow.
The 23-time Isle of Man TT winner and Mountain Course outright lap record holder claimed his sole success at the infamous road race in South China back in 2001, but the Morecambe Missile has been reunited with his Senior-winning Superbike at the 3.8-mile Guia street course and has been right in contention during practice and qualifying so far.
McGuinness was second fastest in opening free practice behind Yeovil’s Martin Jessop (Riders Motorcycles BMW) but upped the pace in yesterday’s first qualifying session to take provisional pole on the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP, lapping in 2m 27.246s to edge out Michael Rutter – the most successful rider in Macau history with eight wins to his name – by two tenths of a second.
Rutter, riding the Penz13.com BMW, was a further two tenths ahead of Jessopp, with Bingley Bullet Ian Hutchinson fourth quickest in his final ride on the PBM Kawasaki before his switch to Tyco BMW for 2016.
Hutchinson, who won at Macau on the Milwaukee Yamaha for the first time in 2013, was one-and-a-half seconds down on McGuinness, although the Yorkshire rider – back to his best with a hat-trick at the TT in June – had another chance to stake his claim for pole position in last night’s final qualifying session, which was due to commence around 11.30pm [GMT].
Scotsman Stuart Easton had plenty of work to do ahead of the decisive Q2 showdown after languishing in 15th place on the SMT Yamaha R1.
Easton is returning to competitive action for the first time since a crash at Brands Hatch in July ended his British Superbike season prematurely, with a fractured leg and damaged knee ruling him out of the second half of the campaign.
The Hawick man sealed his fourth victory at Macau on his return to the event in 2014, where he was competing for the first time since he won the prestigious race three years in succession from 2008 to 2010.
In Q1, the former British Supersport champion was 6.1 seconds off the pace set by McGuinness and Easton will have been eager to climb the leaderboard on the YZF-R1, which he is riding for the very first time, in final qualifying.
A fantastic fifth Macau crown could prove a step too far for the popular Scot tomorrow, who has had relatively little time to get dialled in to the Yamaha and must be feeling ring rusty after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Broughton’s Gary Johnson on another of the Penz13.com BMW machines plus Austrian Horst Saiger (Kawasaki) and Peter Hickman (Briggs BMW) are also among the main podium contenders, while Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston is Northern Ireland’s biggest hope on the East Coast Racing BMW.
Johnston was a solid seventh fastest in Q1 and is aiming to become the first rider from this country to win at Macau since Phillip McCallen achieved the feat 29 years ago in 1996, while Ballymoney’s Robert Dunlop also tasted success in the Far Eastern showpiece back in 1989.
Saintfield man and Irish road racing stalwart Davy Morgan has also made the trip to Macau along with Skerries rider Michael Sweeney and Waterford’s Brian McCormack, who was 16th quickest in Q1 behind Easton.
Newcomer Ivan Lintin also made steady progress on his course debut, ending first qualifying in 27th position on the RC Express Kawasaki.
Yesterday’s opening qualifying session was restarted after a red-flag incident when Russ Mountford came off the VRS Honda at Faraway. He was later described as ‘conscious and moving’.
The 12-lap race is scheduled for a 7.05am start tomorrow morning and is live on satellite TV channel BT Sport.