Age is just a number: 43-year-old 'Blade' Michael Rutter still has edge for Guia circuit
Veteran British motorcycle ace admits it's not getting any easie,r but loves the buzz of the action
Michael Rutter is among the many who return to Macau, look around in awe at how quickly and massively the place has changed, and duly wonder where all the years have gone.
And can you blame the man?
It was in 1994 that Rutter first tackled the Guia circuit and tomorrow's edition of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix will mark the 21st time the British rider will thrill the crowds.
Along the way, Rutter has collected a record eight titles, countless friends, and anecdotes fit to fill a few volumes.
"It's crept up on me," said the man known as "The Blade".
"To be honest, I didn't realise it's my 21st year here. It's a fantastic event and I've been lucky. I have some wins here and that makes any place special."
At 43, and among the elder statesman of a sport that looks from beyond the barriers like it should be the domain of the young and the wild, Rutter said harsh reality told him it's getting tougher now to add to his collection of Macau titles.
"It's going to be hard to win some more, especially when you look at the field this year. It's very good," he said. "There are six or seven riders who could possibly be on the podium and at least four who could go on to win the race. It's just very, very competitive and that's great for the fans and great for the race."
Pushed to name a few of the riders, Rutter cast his net wide.
"Ian [Hutchinson] has been riding fantastically," he said. "Peter Hickman could be one of the big surprises - another who's in fantastic form in the UK. He didn't race here last year, but he picks things up so quick. Stuart Easton is another obvious one.
"Then there's my teammate Gary Johnson. Martin Jessopp has been on the podium a few times. You really can just go on. Everyone is looking forward to how the weekend plays out."
This year sees Rutter riding for Penz13.com BMW Motorrad Motorsport by MGM China and enthused by the opportunity to test himself on a new machine, over familiar terrain.
"I still enjoy riding, love it in fact," he said. "People still keep offering me good rides, so I'll carry on for as long as they do.
"This year's my first time on the BMW and I think I've won on Hondas and Yamahas and Ducatis so it would nice to add another one to the list."
After spending a few pre-race days catching up with friends and checking out additions to the Macau nightline, Rutter said he was fit and ready for action.
"I'm holding up pretty well, I think. Obviously, I wish I was about 10 years younger, but I've grown up here in many ways as a rider. I've been through so much. So many friends made over the years. Some of them sadly aren't here any more but we've always loved coming here."
Four-time winner and reigning champ Easton was out making himself familiar with the SMT/Booth Yamaha during practice and first qualifying yesterday. It was a case of a new bike for the 32-year-old Scotsman, but same confidence as he returns to racing after a crash at the Brands Hatch circuit in July.
"I'm just getting used to the bike and looking to get some miles under my belt," said Easton. "With the two qualifying sessions there's plenty of time."