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Whatever happened to Christian Sarron?

Published: 04 July 2016

Updated: 04 July 2016

The 250 world champ who was fast enough to scare Lawson and the rest walked away at the end of 1990 – but he couldn’t completely turn his back on racing

hristian Sarron was one of the greatest Grand Prix riders of the 1980s. The Frenchman won the 1984 250 world championship, before graduating to 500s, where he became the only man to regularly worry (and scare!) the dominant Americans and Aussies like Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner. Sarron (now 61) retired at the end of the 1990 season.

Fact file

Born Clermont-Ferrand, France, March 27, 1955
Won 1984 250 world championship
Now lives Riom (Auvergne)

They called him Tarzan, why?

Because he was anything but! Sarron was smaller than most racers, with not a lot of muscle. He raced with his heart instead. Indeed, he says the main reason he became a racer was to overcome his fears. “I know it sounds weird but I started racing because I was scared of everything. When I was quite young I told myself, no, I don’t want to live as a slave to fear, so I had to do things to overcome it.”

And did he do that?

Yes. He was arguably the bravest 500 rider of the late 1980s, regularly locking horns with Lawson and Doohan, even if he didn’t have the dirt-track-derived skills that made them so hard to beat. Sarron made up most of his time going into corners, so he had a habit of diving up the inside, scaring the living daylights out of his rivals, and sometimes crashing. Niall Mackenzie once said of him, “Christian didn’t mean to be dangerous; he just was!”

Did he crash a lot, then?

Er, yes. During his career Sarron broke more than 50 bones in his hands alone! He was also unlucky to suffer a lot of concussions. “In 1986 my doctor said, Christian, I want you to stop racing. I give you no choice. You’ve had too many concussions; maybe the next one will be fatal.” Of course, Sarron didn’t stop and remained one of the best 500 riders until the end of 1990.

What’s the story of his 250 crown?

Sarron was the last 250 title winner during the era of privateer 250 GPs, when you could win the world title on a well-tuned TZ, bought from a shop, not leased from a factory. He rode a TZ250 for French Yamaha importers, Sonauto, and his bikes were tuned by Jacky Germain. Other 250 winners that year included Sito Pons, Toni Mang, Carlos Lavado and Manfred Herweh, who rode a Rotax-powered Real.

But the early 1980s were a sad time for French bike racing, right?

Very much so. During 1980 and 1981 France lost four of its fastest bike racers and Sarron lost four great friends: team-mate Patrick Pons, Michel Rougerie, Olivier Chevalier and Christian Leon. “I did think of stopping, but I clearly remember having one thought: what would Patrick do if it had been the other way around? We had discussed it: life, racing, dying. I know he would’ve continued and tried to do his best, so I continued and tried to achieve something.”

How many 500 GPs did Sarron win?

Just the one; in the rain at Hockenheim. Sarron was a genius in the wet, always happy to keep pushing to the limit when others backed off.

What was his favourite bike?

The scary Yamaha YZR500 he raced in the late 1980s: before big-bang engines tamed the power delivery of the 500s. “It was an almost uncontrollable bike. Every time you went out it was a big moment: heart beating, thinking I have to try and control this bike; that was the challenge!”

Didn’t he do a bit of endurance?

When Sarron was just 21-years-old he led the 1976 Bol d’Or race at Le Mans – when it was just two riders per bike! With two hours to go his team was a lap ahead of the next team when his Kawasaki refused to start following a pit stop. Sarron finally got to hold the Bol d’Or when he came out of retirement in 1994 to win the race, riding a factory YZF750 with brother Dominique and Yasutomo Nagai.

What’s he up to these days?

Sarron does MotoGP commentary for Eurosport France, rides in various classic events during the summer and helps the French federation find new talent. “I have always loved racing and I still do!”

Words: Max Oxley Photos: Gold and Goose/Bauer Archive

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