Fennel 1979

Have you ever wondered: because Dakar?

Why Dakar? Have you ever stopped to think about why Sabine decided to end her adventure in the capital of Senegal? Several times we have tried to trace the origin of the choice, looking for certain information. The only things you find are hypotheses.

Certain, Sabine will surely have looked for a city overlooking the sea, with a port that facilitated the logistics of re-entry, a French-speaking city. But Dakar is not the only one. He could have chosen Algiers and thought of his raid differently, making it even easier to return to Europe.

In short, after years of studying the African race the answer didn't come up. Hypothesis only. Sensible, Legitimate, but hypotheses.

As often happens the solution of the problem is found by paying attention to how the question is asked, to spend time figuring out what to look for and what to ask, before you even start searching and asking.

So from asking ourselves "why Dakar" we have come to rephrase the question and ask ourselves: who might know? Who was in contact with Sabine and is still reachable today. With a unique answer that I miss the Storna Horse the name popped up immediately: Jean-Claude Morellet, known to all by the name of Fennel.

Fenouil is a journalist, photographer and motorcyclist French, one of those who participated from the first edition of the pioneering race organized by Sabine and who later was also Director Corsa.

We wrote to him and asked him if he remembered why Dakar, if there was a reason, if Sabine had ever told him about it.

The two met during the second edition of Abidjan-Nice, the one in which Sabine risked getting lost and that made him want to create a race that had the opposite direction, from Europe to Africa.

It was Fenouil himself, according to what he brings us back, to suggest to Thierry Sabine to go to Dakar. Fenouil had already reached the capital of Senegal in 1973 riding a Kawasaki Big Horn (the journey is told in "On a motorbike in Dakar in the sahara hell" Vertical Sea editions).

So the mystery about the choice of destination is this. The will of a restless and daredevil adventurer like Sabine to organize a race that would start in Europe and arrive in Africa and the experience of a photographer friend, journalist and adventurer who suggested the Senegalese capital.

Probably among the ingredients that made this raid mythical and immortal is the intuition to leave Europe, the visibility of the departure from Paris helped make the race legendary.

Text by Nicholas Bertaccini


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Jean Claude Olivier and his Sonauto

Around Thierry Sabine had created a Cenacle. Adventure. A posse of followers that you accodavano the Messiah. There were “Fennel”, Neveu, 1390481_ 10202247482058581_718400453_nAuriol, Comte, Vane… All bikers, the well-beloved. Who stood out in the Group was Jean-Claude Olivier. Personality and intelligence, a natural predisposition for organization. And, as not enough, Centaur himself. Gave a big hand to Thierry in the months leading up the first edition of Oasis Dakar.

They weren't missed tips and promise to field a team. Born in Croix on 27 February 1945, in 33 years had already done everything and more, starting from scratch. Already, a life as it was a century long. At the age of twenty had been hired by Sonauto, Porsche importer in France from 1950. He was sent to clean the stores, that his first job. Reddish hair, clear eyes, intense look, intuitive, the upward path began when business owners decided to work alongside the German gran turismo the sector devoted to motorcycles.

Yamaha, the Japanese brand, to raise awareness and spread on the French market: The problem was how. Jean-Claude came up with the idea of going straight by mechanics in France to show some yet unknown brand models. The project was approved. You did assign a van, painted with Yamaha in large letters, loaded within four bikes in production: a 50, a 80, a 125 and a 250.

He hit his belt France. A difficult job, had to with-win, create points of service and sell. Sell, the imperative. In the first year, 1966, He succeeded in perfecting arrangements for 28 service points and place 177 bike. Three years later struck a thousand units. A rapid growth for a brand still without history in Europe. Volumes increased by importing scooters, another his intuition. However did not neglect his passion.

Kept running and when Sabine staged the first Dakar, JCO, It was named after this acronym, supported the first training Sonauto Yamaha-BP. Four 500 XT lined up for Gilles Comte, Christian Rayer, Rudy Potisek and, Of course, Jean-Claude Olivier. His team dominated, winning six stages out of ten. The Agadez-Arlit and Agadez-Niamey, among the toughest were initialled JCO.

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The Sonauto was meanwhile became the “boss”, the company continues to grow. As races. RAID and track. He participated in nine Dakar, taking second place Yamaha FZ 750 4 cylinders in 1985 (Ed actually brought to the podium a XT600, the FZ750 debuted only a year later). Behind the Bmw of Rahier. Also on track, with the team that had set up, There were satisfactions. Was he the strategist who managed to bring Max Biaggi to Yamaha in 1999.

JC Olivier_neu

But above all was the discoverer of Stephane Peterhansel. Six centers in the African desert. The 24 February 2010 He passed his hand at Yamaha Motor France, become an empire. After 43 years of work. His life as a great Star ended tragically. In a weekend of January 2013 a truck invaded the lane of the motorway Paris-Lille, which is-is proceeding. The crash was inevitable and terrible. Alongside traveling the daughter who managed, miraculously, saving grace. Not him. The legend of JCO ended so. A cursed fate.

Taken from Dakar hell of Sahara by Beppe Donazzan

Fenouil and Herbert Scheck in a moment of rest of the Dakar 1983

Fennel, Africa as a destiny

And a chapeau is not enough when you meet, talking or writing about Jean-Claude Morellet, class 1946, a childhood spent in Cameroon. Already, Africa as a destiny, even before you start. A degree in philosophy, on the barricades in Paris, the restless, 68 French, He entered the drafting of “Moto Journal”, the most important magazine. From graph was passed to the task of inspecting. Transformed it into extreme conditions. Projected tests of motorcycle over long distances, especially on African soil. Somehow helped to fuel the new spirit of adventure, collected and exalted by Thierry Sabine.


Fenouil during the inaugural edition of the Dakar rally 1979

The two characters met at Abidjan-nice, did friendship. When Sabine decided to take the road of the great adventure, It was Jean-Claude to make him change his mind on that-that Thierry prefigured as Dakar-Cape Town. Not planning to Paris that, from the point of view we provide, It would be the city, an ideal setting for an event of this magnitude. To carry out a reconnaissance was Morellet Yamaha XT 500 provided by Sonauto.

The “before” could not be. From technical expert which had decided that the right bike would be a twin-cylinder, heavier but more performance of “Mono” nipponica, House with which she had already entered into a commitment. Was supposed to be one of the Yamaha team with Neveu, Auriol, Comte, Olivier… He asked his BMW a means. The request was accepted and turned to the preparer-test pilot Herbert Scheck.

Dakar misfortune that of 1982, ended with a retreat

Dakar misfortune that of 1982, ended with a retreat

To tackle the marathon chose the R75 road. A few changes, fuel tank, the rest of series. Two BMWs at the start in the first edition of the 1979, those of Morellet and Scheck. It went bad, German stopped almost immediately, so did Jean-Claude, too fragile proved the means set up quickly and in a superficial. Morellet's intuition proved too forward, Yamaha one-two with Neveu and Comte. In 1980 Jean-Claude, that everybody called him familiarly “Fennel”, brought the twin of Munich on the fifth place overall, While in 1981, the year of the triumph of Auriol, She placed fourth.

Had seen far away. His resume to Dakar marked a retreat, with the BMW GS in 1982, a 9° in 1983, the 11° with Yamaha 600 XT Ténéré and another retreat (BMW 1000 GS) in 1985. From motorcycles to the passenger compartment of the car, as Navigator. In 1987 finished third with Shinozuka with Mitsubishi and retired a year later with Zaniroli on a Range Rover. In 1989 He called the Peugeot. He placed fourth with Frequelin, on 205 Grand Raid in 1989, While in 1990 He crowned his career with a second place alongside Bjorn Waldegaard.

Feouil and Scheck 1983

The race of life “Fennel”, adventurer, journalist, novelist, photographer, It is only a sliver of what has managed to accomplish. Organized, among the many races, the first rally of Tunisia in 1980 and especially invented the Rallye des Pharaons in Egypt in 1982. A race second only to Dakar. When her father Thierry Sabine, Gilbert, He decided to fold and give up the helm of the big race, thought for him “Fennel”. Was the 1994. One year only, but it was a choice dictated by continuity. RAID, books, articles, photographs… “Fennel”, himself a character from fiction.

Text taken from “Dakar hell in the Sahara” by Beppe Donazzan published by Giorgio Nada Editore


Alain the great e its Dakar 1979

November 1978, Orly motocross field, near Paris a motorcycle is turning and is feeling with its V-twin engine and its impressive dimensions. It is a prototype, the TT500. Denis Bacholle, Director of Seudem, Moto Guzzi importer in France, he lent it to me for a few days to refine it. The bike has powerful, very stable, very robust and relatively easy to drive, even in muddy paths. Known for a problem, is the driveline which limits the travel of the rear suspension and forces you to keep the rear wheels aluminum alloy series – spoked hub conversion would be too expensive.

I started the enduro with a Pioneer Bones. In 1977 I have successfully participated in the Rallye 5-5 Abidjan-Nice by Jean-Claude Bertrand, on a Yamaha DT400 prepared by Gilles Comte. We join Cyril Neveu, Christian Rayer and… Thierry Sabine, you will lose in the Ténéré. Gilles wins the race.

Dakar 1979

The Moto Guzzi TT500 to Dakar 1979

He was announced as a Paris-Dakar, organized by the same Thierry Sabine, Creator:’ Enduro du Touquet. Denis Bacholle is a passionate man and the team is a true miracle, but on the day of departure five bikes are regularly lined up at the start and their pilots were ready – Martine Rénier, Eric Breton, Piatek, Bernard Rigoni..
Assistance is provided by two Toyota vehicles that have now reached retirement age.

The race begins and we in Algeria, stages of connection: the Guzzi are fighter aircraft! Officials from Honda and Yamaha, on their single begin to look with respect. Our bikes are the best in top speed and very stable. The consumption is under control, as expected. After Reggane, the return to reality is brutal. Rear alloy wheels don't hold up, they break. The 105 mm rear suspension travel on potholes and bumps do not forgive. Martine Rénier and Piatek they crash and injured leave the competition.

I also do I perform in a nice looping, and remedy a left wrist fracture. I decide to keep this incident to myself and continued the rally with one hand or nearly. I adjust the handlebars to avoid tiring too the pulse and I install a tire back onto the rim trail that will be less stressful for the circle. We reach Agadès and while sliding alongside Martine de Cortanze, I feel that the bike collapses in the sand. Despite reinforcements the frame broke at the height of the steering column. The same mishap later happen to Eric Breton. It's time to go home.

Le Grand 1980

Le Grand helped by Breton fumble on the rear wheel of the TT500

My mate Bernard Rigoni, the smiling motorcyclist from inseparable moral qualities and physical properties, will arrive in Dakar.
Jean-Patrick Capdevielle sings: "it's hard to be a hero / on this side of the planet ... ".

He's right, Jean-Patrick, certainly we are not heroes, but the pioneers, anonymous and fans, what you definitely .... Toss in the Algerian desert, withstand sandstorms without GPS, at that time it was not so easy. The Moto Guzzi TT500 demonstrated the competitiveness of twins in rally-raid, without the inconvenience of the rear rim could do great things. This bike was outstanding in everyway. It was a great privilege to lead this Moto Guzzi.

And’ has also been a great privilege to have been members of this team, United States and enthusiastic. A thought for Denis Bacholle, gone too soon. Greetings from Bogota, Colombia, friends of the history of Paris Dakar.

Alain le Grand, Dakar 1979, bib. 85.

Anthony Christian 1979

Christian Desnoyer Dakar 1979

Do not go where the path may lead you; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail behind you.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Working industriously on Honda XL250S of Chistian Desnoyer during the Dakar 1979.

Comte 1979

Gilles Comte Dakar 1979

Those in a hurry, view that the thing that is going to make
It's too big for him.
(Lord Chesterfield)
Gilles Comte Dakar 1979


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Gilles Comte Dakar 1979

Gilles Comte, one of the heroes of the first Dakar, 2° in Senegal on Yamaha XT500


Cyril Neveu Dakar 1979

Cyril Neveu escorted by “Fennel” during the first Dakar 1979


Cover Magazine Moto Verte 1979

A cute Cyril Neveu astride a donkey, celebrates victory in Dakar 1979

Comte 1979

Gilles Comte Dakar 1979

Place of honor for Gilles Comte the first Dakar 1979, on Yamaha XT 500