In perfect conditions Macau maestro Michael Rutter (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW) seized control of the first qualifying session and grabbed provisional pole by 0.99 seconds from the persistent and consistently fast Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles BMW).
The two had battled for supremacy in morning practice with successively faster times and this afternoon picked up exactly where they left off, and then took it in turns to up the ante for lap after enthralling lap.
As he has done before, Rutter picked his moment in the closing minutes of the session and with the chequered flag already waving and his rivals in the pits, he was the first and so far only rider to dip into the 2.24 bracket, tantalizingly close to Stuart Easton’s 2010 lap record, stopping the clock at 2.24.793.
But with one more session to go tomorrow morning, this is only provisional pole and Jessopp, at 2.25.783, has another chance as does the clutch of riders a second or so behind – including 2013 winner Ian Hutchinson (Tyco BMW), previous winner and road racing legend John McGuinness (Honda Racing), a strongly-performing Gary Johnson (Penz13.com BMW by MGM & Special Olympics Macau), the impressively swift Horst Saiger (Saiger Racing Kawasaki) plus – maybe unsurprisingly – the sensational Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser Ducati). A newcomer to Macau but no stranger to rewriting the history books, Irwin is now in seventh place with a 2.27.787 and literally surrounded by previous winners and podium finishers.
The scene is set for a superlative clash of road racing greats in today morning’s second qualifying session, while tomorrow’s 15-lap Grand Prix is looking to be one to remember, even against the backdrop of the past 50 years.