The curtain came down on the 2016 International road racing season on Saturday with the 50th staging of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix – and what a thrilling race it turned out to be. Without doubt, it was one of the finest races ever witnessed around the demanding 3.8-mile Guia circuit with four riders – Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter, Martin Jessopp and Glenn Irwin – locked in battle for the entire race distance.
Every rider would have been worthy of the win, Hickman going for his second in a row, Rutter hoping to extend his record tally to nine victories, Jessopp aiming for a maiden success and Irwin looking to score a sensation victory on his circuit debut. As expected, tyres came into play in the closing stages and, just as he had done in 2015, Hickman had the perfect strategy.
Hickman the master – again:
Down in seventh in qualifying, the Burton on Trent rider looked slightly off the pace but he’d concentrated on his race pace, rather than a single, flying lap, and he was confident he’d be strong from the mid-point of the race onwards. As it was, a great start saw him jump up to fourth and he stayed in touch with the leading pack throughout. It wasn’t until the penultimate lap that he took the lead for the first time but he immediately opened up a small gap which he maintained until the chequered flag.
It was an extremely measured ride from the 29-year and whilst not as dominant as his victory in 2015, it was equally impressive as he only sat on the Bathams/SMT Racing BMW for the first time on Thursday morning. After a year on Kawasaki, the combination of Hicky, BMW and Dunlop proved to be the best package and it’s somewhat staggering that he still finds himself without a ride for 2017. On the back of this latest performance though, as well as BSB success, surely he’ll be signed up for both the roads and short circuits sooner rather than later.
Superb 2016 for Rutter:
His BSB career may have come to an end but second place ended a superb year for Rutter. Revitalised by a move to the Pirelli Superstock 1000 Championship, where he took a race win and numerous podiums, the Bridgnorth rider has been in excellent form on the roads this year and whilst it may have been his 22nd visit to Macau this year, he looked as sharp as ever.
Podiums at the North West 200 and a fine campaign at the Isle of TT, as well as the aforementioned short circuit form, put Rutter in a good position on the second Bathams/SMT Racing BMW heading into Macau. He was never outside the top two all week and whilst he didn’t quite manage a ninth win, he extended his record number of podiums to 17 to prove there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
Luck deserts Jessopp:
For the second year in a row, Jessopp took pole position on his Riders Motorcycle BMW but again he had to settle for a podium position as opposed to a race win thus maintaining his unenviable tag as the most successful rider at Macau never to have taken a race win.
The Yeovil rider sat right on the back wheel of Rutter for the first half of the race before hitting the front for the first time but, despite setting the fastest lap of the race, gearbox issues thwarted him in the closing stages. He did all he could in the final lap and a half to claw back the ground he’d lost but third place was the outcome to make it five podiums – three seconds and two thirds – in the last six years.
Stunning debut by Irwin:
Arguably the performance of the meeting though came from PBM Be Wiser Ducati rider Irwin. Having already impressed on the roads, albeit in the Supersport class, at the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, taking podium finishes at both, few could have expected him to have turned in the ride that he did. Rutter was one rider who had him down as a dark horse for race honours though and it was only a mechanical issue that prevented him scoring a fairytale debut victory.
Despite Macau being notoriously difficult to learn, the 26-year old looked like a seasoned regular as opposed to a circuit debutante and his riding was faultless as he comfortably became the fastest newcomer ever. Never once did he look ragged or pushing over the limit; he looked totally comfortable with the pace and company he was running with.
Having recently become a father, the Northern Irishman has indicated his BSB aspirations will be his focus for the foreseeable future though but one can only wonder what he could achieve if he turned his hand to the roads more regularly as well. An international road race win would certainly be happening sooner rather than later.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.