Max Neukirchner in 2009 at the Alstare Suzuki – the fast Saxon had finished fifth in the World Championship last year and was on the way to becoming one of the big names in the scene. The season started well for the German, but then came the absolute disaster for him in Monza (© WorldSBK).

An interview with Max Neukirchner about his WSBK career

As we studied the history of WorldSBK since its first season, it was clear to us early on that we wanted to interview some of the most important drivers about their careers. This is how the interview with Gregorio Lavilla came about, see on this site under “Interviews+ TV”. The Spaniard, who is responsible for the fate of the Superbike World Championship at the marketing company Dorna today, gave out some very interesting outlooks. A man couldn’t be absent. He comes from Saxony and is the son of a former racing driver. Similar to the Anglo-Saxon Carl Fogarty, but with Max Neukirchner a lot was different than with the multiple world champion, which also applied to his career in WorldSBK.

Max Neukirchner on the MR Racing Ducati Panigale 1199 R – in his last season as a regular driver in WorldSBK he showed an increasing tendency after a constant first half, until an injury did not result in an involuntary break for the first time (© WorldSBK).

A difference to Foggy – the very successful father

While the Englishman was annoyed as a teenager on the track about his father as a hobby driver and his lack of fighting spirit, the Saxon did not know this problem. In contrast to the less successful George Fogarty (the Englishman’s best result was a 2nd place in 1977 at the Jubilee TT), Lothar Neukirchner had become multiple GDR state champion in the 250 cc class. After a 3rd place in 1984, he achieved three titles in a row from 1987 and in 1990 a runner-up title. Equipped with such genes and with the support of his father, Max’s path led through national championships and the WorldSSP 600 to the Superbike World Championship. In the Klaffi Honda Team, Neukirchner achieved the first podium here in the fourth race of the season in Phillip Island. For more about his years in WorldSBK, see our richly illustrated history of the earlier years of the near-series World Championship.

As the Sachsenring winner in the 250 cc two-cylinder class in 1989, Lothar Neukirchner drove an average of over 160 kph. The Third was a Czech named Hanika, possibly a relative of the later Moto3 rider Karel Hanika.
The old Sachsenring only had the start-finish straight and the last corner, called Queckenberg, in common with today’s one. It was a highly dangerous street circuit and nevertheless one of the most popular tracks for drivers and spectators for decades, even in Grand Prix racing.

The interview with the best German in WSBK history

As a rider for one of the best teams, for example on a Ducati factory bike, we assume that history would be different and that you would have achieved at least one runner-up title from around 2006 onwards. Do you agree with us?
Max Neukirchner: “Bad luck in sport – luck in love, that’s how it was in my WSBK career. I’ve won races and achieved several podiums, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to become world champion or runner-up. It’s a shame – and what if? Was that the question?“. The editors: We agree, it’s a shame and as a German it was definitely not easier, especially because motorsport never enjoys the recognition and support here, as in southern countries or England!

Max Neukirchner in front of “Nitro Nori” Haga – on the Suzuki of the Alstare Corona Team, the Saxon took the fastest lap in the race as a reserve driver in 2007 and then became a regular driver, having previously competed for Suzuki Germany (© WorldSBK).

There is an “unfinished” Ducati year in Lucio Pedercini’s team in 2006 in your career. Why did it diverge in the middle of the season, was it because of a lack of competitiveness with the private Ducati?
Neukirchner: “In 2005 I was still on the road with Klaffi Honda, and I was very successful in my first WSBK season (Rookie of the Year with a 3rd place in Phillip Island). Unfortunately, Honda had decided on another driver (Alex Barros) for the 2006 season and there was no more place for me in the WSBK. Thanks to Lucio Pedercini, I got a seat on his private Ducati. Unfortunately, there were numerous technical failures, which also caused me to have a very bad crash and serious injuries”.

Max on to the separation from Pedercini: “I ended the deal with Pedercini in mid-2006 because I saw no point in finishing this season under these circumstances. Ultimately, I got a seat at Suzuki Alstare for the rest of the season, where I was able to finish the final races on a private Suzuki. I had all that Mario Rubatto and Bert Poensgen” (the editor: Poensgen was Suzuki boss in Germany at the time) “I owe them to those who did a great job for me and made it possible for me to finish the 2006 season“.

There was for sure not a special edition of his model for every WorldSBK driver. However, with his support, Suzuki launched the GSX-R1000 “Power Max”.

What was your favorite racetracks and why?
Neukirchner: “Phillip Island, because I really like fast and drawn-out corners and I also think the people in Australia are very friendly and nice“.

WorldSSP driver Patrick Hobelsberger (Honda) in front of Federico Fuligni (MV Agusta) photographed by us in Honda Corner (Turn 4) in Phillip Island at the season opener in Australia. Here Max Neukirchner finished on the podium for the first time in his career in his first WorldSBK season.

Which racetrack (during your racing career) would you rather reject today (e.g. Imola due to the lack of an emergency lane)?
Max: “Imola is dangerous indeed, but I wouldn’t turn down the track because I still like it. There is no racetrack that I would reject“.

Jonathan Rea as the best superbike rider ever, and the audience also love Imola – but as our photo from Sunday at Curva Tosa proves, the price doubling in 2019 compared to the previous year probably gave this event the rest. At the last WSBK event we saw such pictures in several places.

Who was the strongest rider you fought with in your career?
Neukirchner: “In the WSBK Troy Bayliss and Noriyuki Haga. In Moto2 Marc Marquez and in IDM (the international German Championship) Xavi Fores and Markus Reiterberger“.

Troy Bayliss photographed by us as co-commentator at the WSBK season opener in Phillip Island in 2020. Without his MotoGP years, the Australian would probably have won more than 3 titles.

Besides Corser, Biaggi (and you), who in your opinion was the fastest (WSBK) driver on Suzuki??
Max: “No idea, maybe Leon Haslam? I think there weren’t any so-called faster ones“.

How much stronger are tires today compared to 10-15 years ago?
Neukirchner: “We used to have wooden tires compared to today. But seriously, the tires now have more grip and are also much more consistent“.

Did you have friends among the drivers in the paddock and if so, which pilots were they??
Max: “I myself had a lot, let’s call it friends, in the paddock. Among them Leon Haslam, Leon Camier, Troy Corser, Johnny Rea, Xavier Fores, but we only ever met in the paddock. Personally, I only have one best friend, whom I have known from my school days since first grade, and I meet with him occasionally (each of us has a family and work and is heavily involved in terms of time). In addition, I only have a small, close and honest circle of friends in my private life. The only racing drivers with whom I am still in professional contact are Marvin Fritz and Jan Bühn as well as Jan Mohr, whom I also appreciate very much personally“.

Leon Haslam, often called “Pocket Rocket” in England in reference to his famous father. His beginnings in WorldSBK at Renegade Ducati go back to 2003. In these 18 years to this day, however, he did not always drive in the WSBK, but is now back in his second year for HRC Honda. From 2000 to 2002 he was a Grand Prix pilot (© WorldSBK).

What was your best season of your career, was it the year 2008 when you finished 5th in the World Championship, or would the year after that have been even better without the serious injury (until Valencia it was going great back then)?
Neukirchner: “Yes, I do believe that under different circumstances I would have had an even more successful career if it hadn’t always been so unlucky with the falls. Over 80% of my falls were technical problems or someone shot me down. 2007 and 2008 were my best professional years in the WSBK WM. My last victory with Yamaha Yart at the 8-hour EWC World Championship at the Slovakiaring 2018 was also a very special experience“.

Max Neukirchner on the Suzuki – he achieved what German riders like Bradl, Cortese and, before that, even Toni Mang were denied in the premier class, namely victories in the top category of a world championship (© WorldSBK).

The Red Bull Ring is not for WorldSBK, with about 80 percent full throttle, are we right?
Max: “No, I would find it exciting and interesting if a race were held at the Red Bull Ring anyway”.

The full throttle course in the Royal Park of Monza is no longer in the calendar for safety reasons. Here in the picture Max Neukirchner, who is the first to turn into the chicane after the start of the 1st race in 2009. A split second later, of all people, he is hit by the bike and the fallen rider on the ground to his left. After 2006 in Misano, the German’s second very serious accident that was not his fault (© WorldSBK).

Who was the best driver of your active years (apart from you) who never won a title??
Neukirchner: “Noriyuki Haga and Aaron Slight”.

What was the best motorcycle of your career that you rode and in which year?
Max: “2008 my factory Suzuki GSX-R1000 (the sound was like a turbine). 2014 Ducati in the IDM (3C Carbon). I’ve definitely been in love with Yamaha since 2015, because it’s also the best motorcycle for a hobby rider”.

Aaron Slight (left, New Zealand, on Castrol Honda) and Piergiorgio Bontempi (Kawasaki) in WorldSBK 1998 when he lost the title by just 5.5 points to Foggy. Slight won a total of 13 races from 1992 to 1998, contested 229 world championship races and was twice vice world champion (© WorldSBK).

Would you have liked to have driven in a different time or series (more or less time travel) and if so, against which opponents?
Neukirchner: “Oh yes, I would have loved to have taken part in the time Ralf Waldmann and Dirk Raudies were able to experience. At that time, racing was much more important in Germany, it was still possible for spectators to experience it up close and it was also easier to win partners and sponsors for support”.

The podium after the 125cc Grand Prix of Assen 1995 with from left Peter Öttl (P2, Aprilia), winner Dirk Raudies (Honda) and the third-placed Honda driver Akira Saito (© MotoGP).
As an example of the sponsorship topic mentioned by Max, a photo of Helmut Bradl, the father of MotoGP test driver Stefan. His greatest success was the 250cc vice world championship in 1991, but he was definitely not lacking in sponsors.