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This driver is possibly the most obscure Grand Prix winner in history. His pseudonym was apparently derived from a conversation with a journalist. When asked a question, he answered "je ne sais pas" with such a strong Provençal accent that the interviewer wrote down "Jean Sabipa" as his name.
However, another contemporary report states that he was from Paris and he certainly had a Bugatti delivered to an address in the capital. There is also inconsistency regarding the spelling of his real surname with sources equally divided between "Charavel" and "Charaval". What is not in doubt is his victory in the 1926 Italian GP.
Early racing career and Grand Prix success
He started racing in 1920 and finished fourth in a cyclecar race at Le Mans before buying a Bugatti for the following season. He used the car in lesser races and hillclimbs and he won his class in the 1925 San Sebastian 12 Hours when driving solo.
Without a previous GP start or with a works team, "Sabipa" joined Bugatti for the 1926 Italian GP driving a T39A alongside team-mates Jules Goux and Meo Costantini. The latter led from the start with Goux and "Sabipa" following. However, Goux retired and with five laps to go Costantini’s engine started to misfire. Within three laps, the unknown was through to win on his GP debut.
He was lucky to avoid injury when he crashed on the opening lap of the 1927 Targa Florio. His Bugatti T37A plummeted down a 50ft slope and into a garden below. However, he won the 1500cc class in the Coupe de Florio at St Brieuc and finished second at Boulogne.
A class winner at Le Mans
He retired an Itala 65S on his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1928. Out of the limelight for a while, his works Bugatti T35C was fourth at Dieppe in 1930 and he remained with the team for the French GP. However, he crashed after 10 laps and was thrown clear with his body only narrowly missed by the following Bentley of Tim Birkin.
His final major races were at Le Mans. "Sabipa" was fourth in 1932 driving Mademoiselle Odette Siko’s Alfa Romeo 6C to win the 2000cc class and he competed for a final time a year later.