Maverick Vinales overtook Sandro Cortese on the final lap to take victory in an intriguing 125cc race in Malaysia. The focus was all on champion-elect Nicolas Terol but a mistake on the final lap allowed Johann Zarco through into third, keeping the title fight alive.
Terol looked odds-on to clinch the title today after qualifying on pole position with Zarco back in 15th but the Frenchman scythed his way through the field on the opening lap, taking nine riders in the first two corners before picking up another place moments later at the expense of Hector Faubel.
Cortese took up the challenge to Terol early on, bringing Vinales with him while Zarco had also firmly embedded himself in the leading group, with Faubel keeping a watching brief in fifth.
While Terol calmly led the race, his rivals seemed to busy watching each other but Vinales muscled his way into second on lap two. Zarco, mindful that he needed to be ahead of Terol to keep his title hopes alive, attacked Cortese at the first available opportunity but a late braking move into turn one backfired, allowing Faubel past them both.
Zarco retook the second Aspar Aprilia on lap four but third was still not enough with Terol leading. The Derbi rider was struggling to reel in his rivals on the straights, forcing him to make up ground in the corners, but he tried to get on the throttle too early exiting turn two on lap seven, with Cortese and Faubel taking full advantage.
The outlook began to look a little brighter for Zarco a lap later as Vinales hit the front, diving past Terol into turn four and the championship leader appeared to be feeling the pressure, as Cortese repeated the move on lap nine to take second. With Zarco now back in front of Faubel, the title contenders were now neck and neck.
Zarco grabbed the initiative for the first time on lap ten as Terol lost ground at turn four for the third successive lap but the straight-line potency of the Aprilia allowed the Spaniard back through on the approach to the final hairpin, with fifth placed Faubel forcing Zarco back on the defensive.
Keen to wrap up the championship, Terol turned his attentions to Cortese's second place and slipped past into turn one on lap 12. Vinales was now the man under pressure and the Blusens rider left his braking too late for the final corner, handing Terol the lead for the second time.
The front five were still inseparable as the penultimate lap began and Cortese was the first to show his hand, diving up the inside of Vinales into turn one before pulling off another superb move to pass Terol at turn nine. The Aspar rider looked to respond straight away as they accelerated out of the hairpin but ended up jumping out of his seat temporarily, letting Vinales through into second.
Vinales latched straight onto the back of Cortese and drafted past on the back straight but the German repeated his spectacular turn one overtake at the start of the final lap. The 16 year old Spaniard looked to have the measure of him though and slipped back through into turn four to secure victory.
The championship hung in the balance as Terol and Zarco slugged it out on the final lap but it was the series leader who cracked. Less than four miles away from his first world title, the 23 year old had another highside, this time at the high speed turn six, and ran off onto the grass although he may well count himself lucky to stayed on the bike.
Zarco was the grateful recipient of third which gives him a chance of taking the title in Valencia while Faubel inherited fourth. Terol was also fortunate that the leading group were so far ahead as Jonas Folger was a full 17 seconds back, allowing him to salvage fifth.
Zulfahmi Khairuddin delighted the home fans with a career best seventh, beating Jakub Kornfeil and Alberto Moncayo on the last lap with Danny Kent just behind in tenth.
Danny Webb also secured points on his Mahindra while Taylor Mackenzie shook off his qualifying crash to finish 21st. Harry Stafford ran on the fringes of the top 15 early on but crashed out on lap nine.