Nico Terol’s Road To The 2011 125cc Title
Few riders in recent years have started a season as such a clear favourite as Nico Terol. The Spaniard started the campaign on the back of fourteen podiums in 2010 but knew only too well that he would have to be on his very best form if he was to challenge for the title once again. Last year the BANKIA Aspar had looked on course to take the throne until the late charge of a tenacious young rider relegated him to runner-up, making him doubly determined to avoid a repeat performance this time around.
The concept of ‘backing off’ has yet to appear on the agenda of the BANKIA Aspar rider this season, who has shown no mercy to the weak and settled only for the highest possible race finish every weekend. Nico hit sixth gear from the first round in Qatar, with pole position, the race fastest lap and victory. It was a clear statement of intent to the rest of the field and he headed to his home race at Jerez as the 125cc World Championship leader, a position that to the surprise of many he would not relinquish for the entire season.
The passionate local crowd at Jerez welcomed the series leader with open arms and after finishing second there in 2010 he felt like he owed them a victory. Nico escaped from the start, followed only briefly by his team-mate Héctor, confirming that his form in Qatar was no flash in the pan. Victory at the ‘Cathedral’ of Spanish motorcycle racing would be followed by further home wins at Montmeló and Aragónas his billing as title favourite grew stronger. Statisticians reached for their pens and paper as an historic season beckoned.
From Jerez to Portugal little changed in terms of the name of the race winner or the gap to second place. Nico Terol dominated the third round of the season and made another escape in the race, again taking pole position and the fastest lap on his way to his third victory from three – equalling the best ever start to a 125cc season set by Masao Azuma in 1999. Day by day, race by race, Nico’s approach never wavered and nor did his objective: victory. Le Mans should have been the same outcome as Estoril but after setting pole position and the fastest lap of the race he was denied victory on his 100th Grand Prix start by a mistake in the final corner, when he took the wrong gear and handed another rider the opportunity to steal the show. Despite that, Nico remained untouched at the top of the standings: the man to beat.
A second home race of the season for Nico in Barcelona started out in the usual fashion as he again took pole position. However, there was nothing straightforward about his race win, which came via Race Direction following an illegal move by a competitor in the final corner. As well as being another home success to savour, for the BANKIA Aspar rider it crucially extended his advantage at the top of the championship to 48 points, his most comfortable cushion yet. It also wrote Nico’s name into the history books as he equalled Carlo Ubbiali’s record of fourteen consecutive podiums, set in 1957.
If Losail, Jerez, Estoril and Montmeló had been highs then Silverstone would be the first low – eighth place, his worst race finish of the season. The British circuit looked more like a lake than a racetrack and beneath a constant deluge Nico was forced to produce his most prudent performance of the season. A small handful of points would still prove crucial to the championship and after a week’s break the series resumed at Assen, giving Terol the chance to get back on the victory trail at a track where he had come close to winning in the past. Unfortunately things did not work out that way and he was forced to watch the race from his hospital. It shouldn’t happen to a rider who can count his crashes over the course of a season on one hand but it seemed Murphy’s law was against him and after a free practice crash on Friday, when he fractured the little finger on his right hand, he hit the deck again on Saturday and ground the same finger down almost to the knuckle. It needed immediate surgery and Nico missed out on the Dutch TT as he headed back to Spain and the famed surgery of Dr. Xavier Mir.
His absence at Assen gave his rivals the opportunity to eat into his series lead but on his return in Italy Nico once again proved that nobody was more hungry for points than him. After conceding the lead to Zarco in the final third of the race he bit back to take a mouthwatering win at the line. Still recovering from his hand injury by the time the series reached the next round at Sachsenring, Nico was able to lead for almost the entire race, eventually giving in to the pain over the final laps and dropping back to fourth place.
A welcome summer break finally arrived, giving Nico’s hand crucial opportunity to recover before the season fired up again at his talismanic circuit, Brno, where he was unbeaten for the previous two years. The BANKIA Aspar was the hot favourite to make it three in a row as he again started from the front of the grid on Sunday but a mechanical breakdown on the ninth lap left him out of action and denied him an almost certain victory. It was another cruel blow out of the hands of a man doing everything within his power. His advantage over Zarco was slashed to just twelve points.
However, the sign of a true champion is not necessarily in the number of victories he achieves but in the way he handles failure. And what better way to do so than by winning three straight races? Nico continued his love affair with Indianapolis by virtue of a third win there in four years, having scored his debut victory there in 2008. This time it came on the back of another pole position and with a new circuit record of 1’48.38 – a clear statement of intent. At Misano and Aragón he continued without mercy to recover the advantage he had squandered at Brno. Whilst at Misano he had to contend with the resilient Zarco until the line, at Motorland he escaped to take a comfortable third victory for the year on Spanish soil. It was welcomed warmly by the fans, who gave Nico a warm send-off to Motegi. Even though he couldn’t add to his tallies of wins in Japan, second place would be a crucial step towards the title.
With just a week break following the Japanese round the Asian-Oceanic adventure continued at Phillip Island, a circuit as pretty as it is technical and demanding. Nico was amongst the frontrunners all weekend but ran into traffic at the end of qualifying that denied him pole position and left him fourth on the grid. The race got off to a chaotic start when a brief rain shower left damp sections around the circuit and the atmosphere on the grid was tense as the race was declared officially wet. However, whilst the clouds dispersed and the sun broke through the opening few laps were a lottery as the majority of riders opted to run slick tyres, the Spaniard making a nervous start and dropping into the thick of the peloton. A determined recovery to sixth place maintained a 25-point gap over his closest challenger and Nico was able to head to Sepang for a second shot at the title.
The Sepang circuit was calling for the crowning of a champion but destiny dictated that Nico Terol would have to wait for his return to home soil, the Ricardo Tormo circuit. His weekend went according to plan in Malaysia with a dominant performance in practice and a seventh pole position of the season, with his race pace suggesting a break for freedom in the race. However, a dramatic drop in temperature on race day played into the hands of his rivals, who formed a tight group behind him at the front. Despite leading for much of the way and setting the fastest lap of the race, a couple of huge moments on the last two laps denied him victory and after coming dangerously close to crashing he settled for a solid fifth place. A twenty-point advantage and a raucous homecoming would await him at Cheste.
The Ricardo Tormo circuit today saw the crowning of the successor to Tormo, ‘Aspar’ and ‘Champi’. It was a dream come true for any Valencian sports fan, to see a rider from their home turf take the title in front of their eyes. On a weekend dominated by uncertain conditions Nico showed his shrewd side with a controlled performance in qualifying, taking ninth on the grid, and a mature start to a chaotic race that saw Zarco crash, instantly freeing him of the shackles and leaving him to romp home to a superb second place. Tears and cava dripped from the face of Terol on the podium where he had once stood as a small child: from the Cuna de Campeones BANKIA to the 125cc World Championship title.
1st – GP Qatar, GP España, GP Portugal, GP Catalunya, GP Italia, GP Indianapolis, GP San Marino, GP Aragón
2nd – GP France, GP Japan, GP Comunitat Valenciana
GP Qatar, GP Portugal, GP France, GP Catalunya, GP Czech Republic, GP Indianapolis, GP Malaysia
GP Qatar, GP Portugal, GP France, GP Indianapolis (record included), GP Malaysia
Source: Aspar Media