MOTORCYCLE HERO: ÁNGEL NIETO
With 13 world championships and 90 Motorcycle Grand Prix wins, Ángel's record, to date, is only bettered by two riders: Giacomo Agostini (122 wins) and Valentino Rossi (115). His six 50cc and seven 125cc world championship titles meant he dominated the lower displacement categories during his extraordinary two-decade-long career, and broke a number of records on the way.
'I am a fan of Valentino, that no one doubts. If anything resembles me is that Valentino represents what I was trying to be' - Ángel Nieto
Ángel Nieto Roldán was born in Zamora, Spain, on January 25th, 1947. He moved to Madrid as a child, where his love of motorcycling led him to take a position as an assistant in a garage.
The garage's owner, Tomas Diaz Valdes, helped him to begin competing. But Nieto wanted to be a professional rider, so he decided to move to where the action was: Barcelona. He later claimed this decision "the best...of my life".
Things quickly progressed. He worked as a handyman at Bultaco, then Ducati, and finally at Derbi, who, in 1964, entered him into his first World Championship race. He was aged just 17. Nieto came 5th in the race - a feat which he repeated the following year as well as the year after. He ranked 10th overall in the Championship in 1964, 12th in 1965 and 9th in 1966.
'For many things that happen in your life, for many titles you get, you will always have in mind your first victory ' - Ángel Nieto
Come 1967, Nieto was competing in four 50cc races for the team, finishing 4th overall. He matched this result the following year as well. It was a gradual but steady progression for the rider, and it was about to get much better.
In 1969, Nieto was given his first full season with Derbi. To prove his worth, he won the World Championship, becoming the first Spanish rider to do so. It was his first of 13 wins, though, being superstitious, Nieto would quite famously come to refer to his wins as 12+1.
For the 1970 season, Derbi entered Nieto into both the 50cc and 125cc classes. He dominated the 50cc championship, winning five out of 12 rounds, coming 1st in this and 2nd overall in the 125cc championship to German rider, Dieter Braun.
The results were switched for the following year, where he came 2nd in the 50cc championship to Dutchman Jan De Vries after crashing in the final round, but won his first 125cc championship, beating the UK's Barry Sheene.
'I always liked to win in the end. This was something they feared for me' - Ángel Nieto
His battle against Jan De Vries continued in the 1972 season, leading to one of the closest wins in history. By the end of the season, both had won an equal number of races and come second in an equal number, and both had scored the same number of points. The championship was finally decided by adding together the times of the five races where the pair had both competed. Nieto won the title by 21.5 seconds over his rival. He won the 125cc championship as well, making it his first year of a double victory.
After nine consecutive years racing for Derbi, the team pulled out of the championship, leaving Nieto to find a new one. The 1973 season saw him racing in the 125cc class for Morbidello. He didn't compete in the 50cc championship.
'Losing is as important as knowing how to win' - Ángel Nieto
Derbi was back in '74 for one final season before leaving the Grand Prix scene for another 11 years. Nieto rode in the 125cc class for the team, coming in 3rd.
Nieto had not yet won a championship for anyone other than Derbi, but he would go on to win with Bultaco, Garelli, Minarelli and Kreidler too. Making him the record holder for the most world titles earned with different manufacturers.
It was for Kreidler in the 1975 season that Nieto won his fourth 50cc championship. Then, from 1976 to 1978, he rode both the 50cc and 125cc classes for Bultaco, winning the 50cc championship another two times. This 1978 title would be his last in the 50cc category, but in the 125cc championships, he was far from done.
Nieto won the 125cc championships in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983 and 1984. During that time he rode for Minarelli, Siroci-Ratox, Garelli, and Yamaha. He competed in the 250cc class three times, but failed to make his mark.
He may have struggled to win in higher-displacement classes in the Grand Prix, but Nieto did not have this problem at home. Not only did he win 13 world titles during his career, he won every class between 50cc to 750cc in Spain, winning world titles and those at home.
'The races are won on the last lap' - Ángel Nieto
In 1985, Derbi came back on the racing scene and of course, Nieto switched over. The 50cc class had been upgraded to 80cc the previous year, so Nieto rode in that for the '85' and 86' season, but sadly, his winning streak was now over. He came 9th and 7th respectively.
Nieto retired from Grand Prix motorcycle racing in 1989 at the age of 39. His 23-year career has seen him win 13 world titles and 90 Grand Prix victories, which, at the time, put him second in the world to only one rider, Giacomo Agostini.
After retiring, Nieto managed his own racing team, which had two riders – his son, Angel Nieto Jr. and Emilio Alzamora. His other son, Pablo, and his nephew Fonsi also followed in his footsteps and became professional racers.
Nieto moved to Ibiza in his latter years and made several public appearances, as well as commentating on GP races for Spanish television. The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2000.
On 26th July 2017, Nieto was on his quad bike when he had a traffic accident with a car. He was put into an induced coma and died eight days later, August 3rd, from severe brain damage, aged 70, his family by his side.
Ángel Nieto Victories
Active years: 1964-1986
Team(s): Derbi, Morbidelli, Kreidler, Bultaco, Minarelli, Garelli
Grand Prix Wins: 90
Championships: Six 50cc (1969, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977), Seven 125cc (1971, 1972, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984)
Tell us about your favourite motorcycle hero by emailing email@example.com
Others in the Motorcycle Heroes series
28/09/17 - Total Legend
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
Sign up to receive updates and new posts straight to your in-box.