He may have been denied victory at Valencia but there was no denying Max Neukirchner today. He was victorious in Monza's Race 1.
Monza on Sunday was the Max and Nori show, with Max Neukirchner and Noriyuki Haga splitting wins at the Italian circuit after fierce battles in each race. Joining the Suzuki and Yamaha on the podium were Troy Bayliss in Race 1 and SBK rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari in Race 2.
The first of the 18-lap contests saw Bayliss shoot out to the early lead, only to give up the position to Neukirchner in the opening laps. The Alstare Suzuki pilot went on to storm to the finish for his first career World Superbike victory. Right on Nuke's heels was Nitro Nori, who crossed the line a mere 0.058 behind his rival, a precursor of the close finish in the race to come. Bayliss hung on for a third-place result, himself breathing down the neck of Haga.
"I am so happy to win my first ever World Superbike race and proud and happy to be the first German rider to do so," said Neukirchner after the race. "It's a great feeling and I'm sure that there'll be much more interest in Germany now. Although I was a bit nervous before the race, I was not nervous in it or at the end. It was easy to be in front in race one and my bike felt very fast on the straights and good in the corners. I knew exactly where Haga was and knew what I had to do to beat him."
Neukirchner's teammate, Yukio Kagayama, was also in the group fighting for the win, just missing the rostrum but within a second of the leader at the finish line. The other Max in the SBK lineup, Mr. Biaggi, rounded out the top 5 aboard his Go Eleven Ducati.
It was another thrilling ending for Race 2, with Haga just getting the upper hand on his now familiar rival Neukirchner.
Nitro Nori almost duplicated his double from last year, finishing 1-2 in Sunday's races.
The gap between first and second was a fantastic 0.009, as the duo swapped back and forth for the lead right up to the checkered flag. Bayliss was also running with the duo, at first, but was forced to retire from the race as his Ducati 1098R sprung an oil leak. Instead British Superbike champion Kiyonari stepped up on his Hannspree Ten Kate Honda to taste his first sip of SBK champagne, with the rookie concluding his best day of the season recording a 6-3 byline.
"I was too slow at the start of race one so in race two I concentrated on getting a good start and pushed hard, right from the beginning," said Kiyonari. "I was able to catch Neukirchner and Haga, although they were riding really well. At one stage I thought I could win, but I knew I had to brake late into the Parabolica and I nearly lost the front, which made me run wide on the entry. But I'm really happy with my first podium."
Finishing just off the Race 2 steps was Alstare Suzuki's third rider and one-time championship points leader, Fonsi Nieto. Picking up the slack for Ducati after its ace was relegated to pit row, Xerox Ducati's Michel Fabrizio rounded out the top five.
Although it would seem that Bayliss suffering a Race 2 DNF would open the door in the championship hunt, somehow the Aussie leaves Monza with an even greater points lead than when he arrived. Credit the point advantage jump from 70 to 78 to the poor results of Carlos Checa, who shared a DNF with Bayliss in Race 2 and scored a lackluster eighth in Race 1. The 3-DNF result isn't how Bayliss wanted to leave the Monza circuit for the final time in his career, but the veteran rider will take what he can get.
"I knew today's races would be hard and that proved to be the case," said Bayliss after the win. "In Race 1 I felt the bike was missing a couple of things and struggling on the long corners but in the end I was happy to take a third place in Race 1. My compliments to Max who takes his first Superbike win, both him and Nori rode a great race and there was nothing I could do to get past them. Race 2? Let's just say I'm happy to leave Monza with a bigger points lead than I had when I arrived."
Checa remains second in the overall standings but now Haga, gathering in a nice 45-point score, is just four points behind.
Neukirchner also improved his championship position with his 1-2 performance and is just one point shy of Haga. Having a solid but a underwhelming 7-4 result, Suzuki teammate Nieto holds fifth-place in the overall points at 107.
The World Superbike paddock now packs up ship for America, with Round 6 taking place June 1st at Salt Lake City's Miller Motorsports Park.
Monza Race 1 Results:
1 Neukirchner (Suzuki)
2 Haga (Yamaha) +0.058
3 Bayliss (Ducati) +0.672
4 Kagayama (Suzuki) +0.771
5 Biaggi (Ducati) +3.869
6 Kiyonari (Honda) +5.995
7 Nieto (Suzuki) +8.788
8 Checa (Honda) +9.374
9 Fabrizio (Ducati) +10.667
10 Smrz (Ducati) +10.771
Monza Race 2 Results:
1 Haga (Yamaha)
2 Neukirchner (Suzuki) +0.009
3 Kiyonari (Honda) +0.051
4 Nieto (Suzuki) +4.489
5 Fabrizio (Ducati) +10.272
6 Muggeridge (Honda) +10.376
7 Xaus (Ducati) +10.496
8 Corser (Yamaha) +12.498
9 Badovini A. +19.429
10 Lavilla (Honda) +26.373
DNF Bayliss (Ducati)
DNF Checa (Honda)