On a weekend when team-mate Jonny Rea celebrated a superb double victory that has hauled him right into the reckoning for the World Superbike Championship laurels, Max Neukirchner had something to celebrate of his own at Assen – his first top ten finish of 2010, a result that he lauded as a breakthrough.
Neukirchner's stunning momentum was stopped abruptly in its tracks early last year, after the German had in 2008 established himself as the leading Suzuki contender with Alstare and become the first of his countrymen ever to triumph at WSBK level at Monza.
Twelve months later at the same circuit, disaster would strike as the Stollberg native found himself the innocent and helpless victim of Brendan Roberts' out-of-control and rider-less Guanadalini Ducati as he led through the Autodromo's first chicane, leaving him with a broken femur that put him out of action for the remainder of the season.
From there, it has been a long road to recovery for the recently-turned 27-year-old, and his performances in the early part of 2010 have proven that he is still rebuilding his physical fitness and his confidence in the wake of both the accident and subsequently being dropped by his team. After Hannspree Ten Kate Honda demonstrated sufficient faith in him to sign him up for the present campaign, however, at Assen Neukirchner finally began to truly pay his new employers back.
The Saxon successfully rebounded from a crash in race one to take an encouraging ninth place from 16th on the starting grid in race two in the Netherlands – matching the pace of the leaders along the way, and afterwards crediting significant set-up alterations to his Honda CBR1000RR and changes to his riding style for his upturn in form.
“We have changed the bike a lot this week and I adapted my riding style a bit better in the morning warm-up,” he explained, “so we thought we could improve more in the race. The problem was that, although the settings were the same I hadn't ridden this new style, which requires braking further into the corner with a full tank. Anyway, I ended up losing the front [in race one], but brought the bike home.
“We went harder at the front and the rear for race two and it worked for me, so it feels like a great step forward. I can't wait to get to Monza – not only to close the book there after last year's crash, but to improve the bike further. I'm also very happy for Jonny, who did a great job here. In fact, it's been a good step forward for the whole team.”
Those sentiments were echoed by team manager Ronald ten Kate, who praised both Neukirchner's progress and Rea's peerless maiden WSBK pole position and double top on the squad's home turf, as well as the Ulsterman's scintillating new lap record in race two as he vaulted up two spots in the riders' standings from fifth to third.
“It's quite difficult to describe our feelings at the moment,” admitted the Dutchman. “Jonathan's clean sweep this weekend happened to be completed in one of the most exciting races we've seen. His victories also put us back in contention for the championship race.
“The second outing showed a breakthrough for Max, who has been working so hard to change his riding style this weekend. It's paid off with his best result of the season, and the whole performance of the team gives us something solid to build on as we head into the middle part of the season.”