Stuart Easton set the fastest ever lap of the 3.8-mile Macau circuit on Thursday afternoon to set provisional pole position for Saturday’s 15-lap Macau Grand Prix.
The Hydrex IGT Honda ace set a time of 2m25.476s and could have gone quicker still in the closing moments had it not been for a slower rider holding him up through the Melco Hairpin.
Nevertheless, he ended the first qualifying session a whopping 1.636s ahead of Michael Rutter and with cold weather again expected for tomorrow morning’s final 1-hour session (7.30am local time, 11.30pm UK time), this afternoon’s results could well turn out to be the final grid.
“Every year I come here I hate the first session as the track is so slippery and I can never believe how fast people go,” said Easton, “which is why I ended up 12th and over four seconds off the pace.
"I always like to wait until Q1 when there’s plenty of rubber down on the track and I just feel a lot more comfortable out there.
"This afternoon, it felt like a proper racetrack and I could push as hard as I felt safe.
"I did two laps in the 25s and I think a 24 is possible but you never want to push your luck around here so I’m just concentrating on being fast and smooth.
"I haven’t got pole yet though and if the temperature is a bit higher for tomorrow morning’s final qualifying session, I’m sure some of the boys behind me will go quicker.”
Indeed, conditions all week have been more like Brands Hatch on a March morning with rain, thick cloud and icy cold winds whilst Thursday morning’s free practice saw an air temperature of just 11 degrees with the track only a degree higher.
That had improved to 16 degrees and 21 degrees respectively in the afternoon although the wind chill continued to make it feel a lot less.
The session was less than three minutes old when it was red flagged after Dutch newcomer Branko Srdanov crashed heavily at turn one, sliding straight in to the Armco but miraculously escaping injury.
After German rider Rico Penzkofer (BMW) had set the early pace, it was Rutter who was the first to dip below the 2m30s barrier after 15 minutes and the Midlands rider continually reduced his times with a lap of 2m27.112s sending him over half a second clear of Easton with ten minutes remaining.
However, he was unable to respond when Easton went quicker and so ended the session in second place.
Ian Hutchinson (Kawasaki) who spent almost 20 minutes in the garage mid-session to make a number of gearing changes, got back out on track towards the end and a flurry of quick laps saw him leap back up the leaderboard to an eventual third, just over three tenths behind Rutter.
Team-mate Conor Cummins, on the second PBM Kawasaki was up to second with five minutes to go but all subsequent fast laps saw him baulked by slower riders and he had to settle for fourth and the final spot on the provisional front row.
Penzkofer held on for fifth and again impressed on the Superstock-spec S1000R BMW whilst American veteran Mike Barnes on the third PBM Kawasaki also jumped up the table in the closing stages to place sixth.
Ulsterman Stephen Thompson was an impressive seventh ahead of John McGuinness, Gary Johnson and the second quickest American Jeremy Toye.
First Qualifying Times
1st Stuart Easton (Hydrex IGT Honda) 2m25.476s
2nd Michael Rutter (Team of Paris/AXA Racing Kawasaki) +1.636s
3rd Ian Hutchinson (PBM Kawasaki WSBK Team) +2.098s
4th Conor Cummins (PBM Kawasaki WSBK Team) +2.269s
5th Rico Penzkofer (BMW Macau Racing Team) +3.221s
6th Mike Barnes (PBM Kawasaki WSBK Team) +3.479s
7th Stephen Thompson (Robinson Concrete Honda) +3.796s
8th John McGuinness (Hydrex IGT Honda) +3.981s
9th Gary Johnson (AIM Racing Suzuki) +4.302s
10th Jeremy Toye (Lee's Cycles Racing Honda) +4.598s