Stuart Easton celebrated his return to the Macau Grand Prix after a three year absence by snatching pole position on his PBM Kawasaki during the closing stages of Friday morning’s final qualifying session.
The diminutive Scot finished half a second ahead of eight times Macau winner, Michael Rutter on the Milwaukee Yamaha.
“So far, so good.” Easton smiled after the early morning session.
“I was watching my pit boards go from P1 to P2 and back to P1 all through the session. I was pretty certain it was Michael I was up against. It is important to be fastest for tomorrow but I won’t be getting ahead of myself. It will be a tough race to win.”
The Hawick rider won three Macau Grand Prixs in a row between 2008 and 2010 before a huge crash at the North West 200 in 2011 saw the 31 year old take a break from the roads. He admitted that he found the Armco-lined Guia circuit daunting on his return.
“After being away for so long I was in shock after the first practice session but we slowly built up from there.” he said.
“The track is a lot bumpier than it was the last time I was here and it hasn’t been a great year for circuit conditions. I wasn’t pushing as hard as I have in previous years but we are all in the same boat.”
Michael Rutter was not surprised by Easton’s pace.
“It was what I expected really.” he said.
“I knew it would be close but I expected Stuart to have the edge.”
Chasing his ninth Macau win, the 43 year old veteran said he was also struggling with the track conditions.
“On the first three laps it’s like riding in the rain.” he explained.
“It’s so slippery and you lose all your confidence. I’ve never known it so bad.”
The Birmingham man is hoping that things will improve for Saturday afternoon’s 12 lap race.
“We set our fastest times on a race tyre and the Dunlop rubber is harder than the Pirelli that Stuart is using. Hopefully track conditions will clear and higher temperatures will help our tyres work better.”
Hull-based Northern Irishman, Lee Johnston provided the shock of the day when he set the third fastest time of the session. It was a huge improvement on his Thursday times when the Pirtek Honda rider had been 9th fastest.
“I always take time to get going.” Johnston laughed.
“I never qualify all that well but I had a lot more grip today and I’m only 1.1 seconds off pole. The important thing now is to get a good start in the race and get through Lisboa near the front because it’s a freight train after that.”
Last year’s Macau winner, Ian Hutchinson, was fourth fastest on the second PBM Kawasaki and Jimmy Storrar made it an all British top five on the DMR BMW.
Austrian Horst Saiger was the only non-British rider in the top ten with his sixth fastest time on his Saiger.com Kawasaki keeping him ahead of Gary Johnson (Quattro Plant Honda), Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles.com BMW), Steve Mercer (Penz13.com BMW) and John McGuinness (Pirtek ProBolt Honda).
The luckiest man of the day was Michael Sweeney. The Irishman’s Macau debut ended spectacularly when he crashed his ZX10 at Mandarin corner, the fastest bend on the Guia circuit, after clouting his shoulder on the Armco. Sweeney walked away from the crash but his bike burst into flames, forcing a temporary stop to the session.