Ian Hutchinson is racing for the first time in 18 months after a horrific accident and a fight to save his leg, but showed no signs of rustiness as he took pole position for Saturday’s motorcycle race at the Macau Grand Prix.
The English Milwaukee Yamaha rider nipped pole from eight-time winner and defending champion Michael Rutter (SMT Racing Honda) by just five-hundredths of a second in the second qualifying session on Friday (two minutes, 25.568 seconds compared with 2:25.625).
“We made quite a big change from yesterday front and rear, as we’ve been really struggling, really trying hard. Towards the end of the session I thought the track felt better than yesterday, so I knew it had to be the changes we’d made,” said Hutchinson.
“I never expected to get pole but was hoping for a front-row start. I’m pleased it’s come out like this and it’s nice to get praise from all the riders. I’ve had a lot of support.”
Hutchinson, 34, became the first man to win all five solo Isle of Man TT races at the same meet in 2010, but five months later broke his left leg in a crash at Silverstone. He has had 29 operations since. In 2012 he broke the leg again, and suffered a massive infection, requiring bone grafts.
“Fair play to him though, he’s been through a lot,” said Rutter, seeking a record ninth win. “ I’ve had a few poles, so I hope we can put a good race together tomorrow.”
A winner in 2001, John McGuiness was third (2:27.447) as he tries to add a second Macau victory.
“2001 is a long time ago,” he said. “I’ve put my heart and soul in and gone round as hard as I could all weekend. The bike’s been good, the team’s been good and we’re all enjoying ourselves. I’m on the front row and I couldn’t really have done any more.
“The front row is really important for this Macau race and I have to say hats off to Hutchinson. He hasn’t been on a bike for a long, long time, so to stick it on pole position in such hot company and on one of the toughest tracks in the world [is an achievement].”
Meanwhile, in F3 qualifying, European Champion Raffaele Marciello showed why he’s hotly tipped for the F1 big time with a blistering lap to take pole position for today’s Qualification Race.
The 18-year-old Italian, a member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, hadn’t pushed himself in any of the early practice or qualifying sessions but turned on the speed in Friday's final session to lap in two minutes 11.555 seconds and take front spot for Saturday's race, the result of which decides the grid for Sunday's main event.
“I didn’t push at all in practice one and two so I had a lot of margin all weekend,” said the Prema Powerteam driver. “In qualification I took a good slipstream and managed to do a good lap.
"It will be a difficult race but I’m confident we can do a good job tomorrow – but Sunday is the most important.
“There’s not a lot of difference here between first, second, third, but of course I feel very proud - it’s such a famous track and it’s great to be on pole.”
Felix Rosenqvist (Mucke Motorsport) was second, just 0.067secs slower, followed by Alex Lynn (Prema, +0.084) and Lucas Auer (Prema, 0.497). Last year’s winner, Antonio Felix da Costa, was fifth.