5 years ago
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Former French World Champion Christian Sarron chats to motogp.com about his 1984 title, Zarco’s chances and riding with the greats.
Sarron won the 1984 250cc World Championship and also was the only European rider to be able to mix it with the greats during the unforgettable 90’s era that saw American and Australian riders dominate the 500cc class. Now, 20 years after he his retirement, he continues to work in the sport he loves as a commentator on MotoGP™ for Eurosport.
Sarron is still one of the most loved and respected riders by fans not just for the tremendous courage he showed on track, but the character he showed off track as well:
In 1984 you won the 250cc World Championship with Yamaha against rivals such as Wayne Rainey, Anton Mang, Sito Pons and Carlos Lavado. What did you enjoy more, the fight for the title, or finally winning it?
“In 1983 I was runner-up and the following year I had to switch to a production racer Yamaha, as there were no factory bikes available that season. Kawasaki were no longer competing, and we still have a year until the arrival of Honda and Freddie Spencer. During the season my bike worked quite well and I had some pretty good battles with Manfred Herweh, Sito Pons, Anton Mang, Carlos Lavado and Martin Wimmer; all of who are still good friends today. There were also a lot of French riders on the grid at the time as well. The atmosphere between us was great and we had some incredibly tight battles for victory.
I remember in Anderstop, Sweden, I had the chance to become World Champion before the end of the season in Misano. I had to finish in the top eight to take the title, but there was a huge fight during the race with more than 8 riders for victory, so I could not relax. In a battle with that many riders, anything can happen, so it was quite stressful. Fortunately, I managed to finish in second and got to lift the title. It was lucky, because in my last race at Misano, my engine seized.
During the previous years I had lost many friends; Oliver Chevallier, Patrick Pons and other French riders who lost their lives in fatal accidents. I feel lucky to have survived, because we lost some very good French riders.
The first thing I did when I won the title in Sweden was dedicate it to Patrick. When I stopped the bike the first to come and congratulate me was my good friend Barry Sheene and then Jean Claude Oliver, who was the head of Yamaha in France and had helped us a lot. Then a camera appeared and I simply dedicated the title to my friend that I had lost.”
After winning the title you moved up to the 500cc class and won in Germany against Freddie Spencer in a memorable race in the rain. What was it like back then fighting for the podium against that generation of Australian and American riders?
“In 1985 I wanted to return to 500cc because I had the opportunity to get my hands on a Factory bike with Yamaha France. Although we did not have the latest equipment, we got regular updates from the factory and also had the support of Michelin.
I feel very proud and fortunate to have been able to race against such riders as Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Wayne Gardner amongst others. To me they were great riders. I learned a lot from everyone and completely changed my riding style. I didn’t have a manager or a coach, so I had to teach myself.
Achieving victory in the third race of the year and going on to finish third in the championship was indeed a great success; especially considering that I only got my hands on the Yamaha YZR500 at the first race of the season at Kyalami. Still, I approached the season positively and things started well…”
How do you rate Johann Zarco’s season, and how good would it be to see a French rider win the intermediate title for the first time in 15 years?
“The first thing I want to say is that is an honour for me to be able to commentate on Zarco’s amazing season. It is a great season, and something that I am enjoying as a journalist along with the whole of France. I am very impressed by how he has ridden. Mentally ha has shown great determination, and is technically very attuned to his bike. He has not made a single mistake.
So far it has been a perfect season, so I hope he can win the title in Aragon. I think he has a great opportunity and it would be something I would be delighted to see and commentate on. I think Johann is a great rider and a great person and to have a French World Champion again would be fantastic. I have been waiting for it to happen since Olivier Jacque in 2000.”
As one of the few riders to fight for the podium until you left the 500cc class in 1990, how do you see the title battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo?
“I must admit they have both impressed me a lot. After all these years and the titles he has won, Valentino still maintains a huge desire. The drive to change his riding style and show incredible improvement over the last two seasons is amazing. He has worked very hard. If he wins the championship he will deserve it.
Lorenzo has also impressed me. The style in which he won the four consecutive races, especially at Mugello in front of the Rossi fans, has been amazing. He was riding very close to perfection. I have been so impressed with his effectiveness on track; it would be shame to see him lose the title due to some problems he had with his helmet at the beginning of the season. It is not a battle you want to see settled on a problem with a helmet. Although Rossi is ahead now, the season is not over. I think we will see a great and dramatic end to the championship battle.”
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