Peter Hickman and Bridgnorth's Michael Rutter finished first and second in Saturday's 50th Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix to give Bathams/SMT Racing the perfect end to their highly successful season. And with Stuart Easton taking a strong sixth, it was an extremely enjoyable trip to the Far East venue for the team.
With good albeit hot conditions throughout practice and qualifying, it was Michael who fared best and he topped the timesheets in the first qualifying session on Thursday afternoon with a lap of 2m24.793s. He lapped a tenth slower on Friday which meant he lined up in second place behind fellow BMW rider Martin Jessopp for Saturday's 12-lap race.
Team-mates Easton and Hickman were able to quicken their pace though and with lap times of 2m26.044s and 2m26.183s respectively around the 3.8-mile Guia circuit, the duo lined up in fifth and seventh.
Rain on Saturday meant it was a damp start for the morning warm up but by the time the race came under starters orders close to 4pm it was dry all round and a blistering start by Michael saw him grab the holeshot and an early lead. Burton upon Trent's Hickman wasn't far behind in fourth although Stuart dropped back slightly to ninth.
By the end of the first lap, the front four riders of Michael, Jessopp, Glenn Irwin and Peter had made a break and it turned into a classic as the quartet remained nose to tail for the remainder of the race. There was nothing to choose between them around the demanding circuit with Peter moving up to third at the expense of Irwin on lap four.
Lap seven saw Michael and Jessopp exchange the lead before the latter went ahead again at Lisboa on lap eight. Just over a second covered the top four and on the tenth lap both Michael and Peter went ahead of Jessopp again under braking at Lisboa. The duo made a small break as Irwin unluckily retired and although Michael did all he could to find a way past, it was Peter who prevailed at the chequered flag by half a second for his second successive Macau GP win.
Michael, having his 22nd visit to Macau, took second and his 17th podium with Jessopp just over a tenth of a second adrift in third. Hawick's Easton, meanwhile, kept chipping away throughout the race and having overhauled Gary Johnson for eighth just after half race distance he then did the same to Ian Hutchinson on lap ten to claim seventh. With Irwin retiring, he was promoted up to sixth and just held off John McGuinness on the dash to the line with the results, unsurprisingly, giving Bathams/SMT Racing the best team award..
Peter Hickman: "What a hard race! We worked really hard on our race pace during qualifying and I knew I'd be strong in the middle and at the end of the race although P7 on the grid wasn't ideal. I made a good start although Glenn was riding really well and it was hard to get near him to make a pass. I was good on the exit of turn one and turn two but I got a double slipstream from both Martin and Michael and I struggled to get stopped so I banged it down to first gear, instead of second, to pull it back in. I got round ok and got by Michael and I've got to say a massive, massive thank you to the Bathams/SMT Racing team. I hadn't seen the bike until practice on Thursday and with not having ridden a BMW since this time last year I was on a steep learning curve so to get the job done for the second year in a row is a brilliant feeling."
Michael Rutter: "That was like short circuit racing on the roads! I got a good start and I just thought to myself 'perfect, get your head down and keep calm'. When Martin came by though it was a case of 'here we go' and I knew it was going to be another hard race. I knew I couldn't let him go so went up the inside at every opportunity. I was happy keeping it smooth but obviously Peter came by and although I tried everything I could to get back by him, he was on rails and when no opportunity presented itself on the final lap, I knew I'd finish second. It was a bit dusty out there and you're just trying to manage the race as it's so easy to overshoot or miss a gear so fair play to Peter and the whole Bathams/SMT Racing team."
Stuart Easton: "I opted for the softer tyre in the race and made a steady start to slot into ninth but as the race wore on I managed to get past Gary and Hutchy before having to fend off my old mate John McGuinness in the closing laps when my tyre went off. It was a tough race for me but a great 1-2 for my team mates so well done to them and the team who did a great job all week."
Robin Croft, Team Owner: "Wow, what a race, my mouth was dry and heart thumping throughout! The race panned out pretty much as we expected in terms of who the front riders would be and also how close it was. When Martin missed a gear it allowed Peter and Michael to make a break but he came right back at Michael although he did a superb job in keeping him at bay and followed Peter home. Peter just had that bit more pace today, a fact Michael appreciated. It's a 1-2 that I've dreamed of and stretched myself for but it's totally worth it so well done to all my team and all my riders."
Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix (12 laps)
1 Peter Hickman (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW)
2 Michael Rutter (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW)
3 Martin Jessopp (BMW)
4 Conor Cummins (Honda)
5 Horst Saiger (Kawasaki)
6 Stuart Easton (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW)
Pictures by Stephen Davison – Pacemaker Press International