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Legends: Angel Nieto

Submitted by on November 16, 2010

He was the hero Spanish racing needed, this tough little guy from Zamora. But Angel Nieto would go on to win 90 Grands Prix in the 50, 80 and 125 classes between 1969 and 1985. Only Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi have won more GPs.

Nieto’s superstitious nature means he still calls his tally of world championships “12 + 1.”

Spain in the late 1960s was economically backward. Overseas factory riders would smuggle in desperately needed materials such as frame tubing. The first GP victories for Bultaco and Derbi were delivered by New Zealand’s Ginger Molloy and Australia’s Barry Smith respectively.

But in 1969, 22-year-old Nieto won the world 50cc championship on a Derbi. He only won two GPs, and one of those (the Ulster GP) in controversial circumstances, after knocking Holland’s Paul Lodewijkx (Jamanthi) into a ditch while attempting an inside pass. Title runner up Aalt Toersen (Kreidler) and Lodewijkx both won three, and Derbi teammate Barry Smith two. In fact Smith was in championship contention until mechanical disasters in the last two rounds.

They were wild days in “tiddler” racing, before television cameras captured every incident. Going into the deciding 1969 race at Opatija, Derbi officials offered Smith 600 pounds not to kick Nieto off his bike. This was equivalent to 60 per cent of his sign-on fee, and Derbi paid up afterwards.

In 1971 Nieto claimed his first world 125 crown for Derbi, over Barry Sheene (ex-works Suzuki).

Nieto would go on to win championships with Kreidler, Bultaco, Minarelli and Garelli. In the early 1980s he had the biggest motorhome in the paddock, overshadowing even the top American stars.

In retirement, Angel Nieto ran his own team, including his sons Angel Jnr and Pablo, and nephew Fonsi. Today, he’s a GP commentator for Spanish TV.

by Don Cox

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