Macau: Rutter fastest in opening practice
17 November 2011
By Barry Russell
As usual at Macau, it was the bikes that got the Grand Prix underway when pit lane opened at 7:30 this morning under grey, threatening skies for the free practice session.
The rain held off and it was Michael Rutter on the Riders Ducati and and Jeremy Toye on the IGT Kawasaki who got straight to work, setting the fastest times in the early laps and staying clear of the field for the rest of the session, with Rutter recording a best time of 2:27.618, 1.269s ahead of the Californian.
Behind them, Ian Hutchinson made a promising return to the Guia Circuit, recording the third best time, ahead of Michael Barnes, Gary Johnson and John McGuinness, who was the fastest Honda.
Of the Dunlop brothers, William was initially the faster until he hit a barrier on the third gear Fisherman's Bend. He was unhurt and the bike appeared to have damaged just its bodywork, despite the speed of the crash.
Michael Dunlop was 15th fastest at the end, 7.5 seconds off Rutter's time, while William was a further two seconds slower and three places further back, in eigtheenth.
Conor Cummins had a quiet session, completing 14 laps on his IGT Kawasaki and finishing 11th, six seconds behind Rutter.
With the roads having been used by trucks and taxis for the past twelve months and with many of the riders on unfamiliar machinery, it was an exploratory session for most of the field, but the experience and past successes of Rutter's Ducati team and Paul Bird's Kawasakis were evident in the speed out of the box of the two leaders.
Michael Rutter commented, "I'm happy with the bike and the start we have made. The track was little bit dusty, but grip wasn't bad and it improved through the session."
Jeremy Toye, who has previously only had one test at Portimao on the IGT Kawasaki said, "The bike's going great and we just need to tune it a little more into how I ride, but I'm really pleased with how it's going. One thing I noticed is that the track is a lot bumpier in places than in previous years, but it's the same for everyone."
Ian Hutchinson, who finished third in his last outing at Macau in 2009 was pleased with the first session on the Swan Yamaha, which has a specially made right-side gear change mechanism to accommodate his injuries.
He said, "I am comfortable on the bike and it's working well, so I think we can improve from where we started."
Commenting on his race fitness, he said he hoped it would hold up for the 15 lap race on Saturday, but looked in good spirits after completing 17 laps in the session.
Of the other fancied runners, Gary Johnson was disappointed with his first session on the IGT Suzuki by TAS, explaining, "The gearing was all wrong, so it was pushing into corners and coming out of them too slow. We'll change it and do a better job in qualifying later.”
While the hope is that the cars on track ahead of the first qualifying session this afternoon will clean the surface and lay some rubber down, it looks likely that the weather could intervene.
Rain began to fall at 9:00am, and a steady drizzle continued through to lunchtime. With none of the teams carrying rain tyres it could turn out to be a half day for the bikes.
UPDATE: The afternoon session was cancelled due to rain.