Senna, the Innovator

Columns: Special
Ayrton Senna Da Silva, as he was called at the beginning of his career, was the greatest innovator in karting thanks to his unique and unmatched driving style. Let's discover how... (pm)

I don't want to remember Senna as everyone does, and as everyone will, in these days marking the 30th anniversary of his passing. I want to remember the happiest and carefree Senna, the one from the karting days, the one who revolutionized the driving style of the small racing vehicles we love so much. When he arrived in Italy, Ayrton was an 18-year-old boy with enormous track experience who, from the beginning, demonstrated a unique ability and sensitivity in driving. Ayrton drove in a very physical manner, as was the style at the time, with hands high on the steering wheel, pushing the kart to its limits on entry. For a driving style unique in its kind, which was soon copied (more or less) by everyone, he needed a kart that was very loose at the rear axle, and to achieve this, he preferred to have a very wide rear track and an extremely rigid axle. 

In the footage of that time, Ayrton's kart appears to be 10 years ahead of the others, with the rear track a hand's width wider than all the others, starting a trend that would dominate from then on. Despite this pursuit of a "free" rear end, Ayrton also wanted an extremely responsive kart, which led him to choose a short wheelbase chassis, 1010 mm: the legendary DAP WTR green previously used by the Italian Roberto Lanzetti in the Club Azzurro. With that chassis, the alien, as I like to call him, put on a show at the 1979 Estoril World Championship, stunning everyone with a unique mastery of the vehicle in history, performing overtakes with the kart fully sideways, even leaning on two wheels to the delight of the 20,000 fans screaming from the stands. If you like, watch the footage of that time, and you'll understand what we're talking about. 

However, Senna sometimes made mistakes: on the WTR chassis formerly used by Lanzetti, there was a liquid-cooled DAP T70 engine, much more powerful and consistent in performance than the air-cooled T70. Senna switched to the air-cooled T70 convinced it was better, but he was misled by the increased vibrations more than by the horsepower... The 1981 World Championship was another masterpiece by the alien, despite finishing fourth. The chassis chosen for the occasion was a DAP Jesolo, still with a 1010 mm wheelbase against the 1040 of the rest of the pack. Achille "the pianist" Parrilla entrusted Walter Masini, then a skilled driver in the DAP orbit, with a series of engines to break in and a Jesolo chassis. Masini tested at Pinarella and complained to Parrilla that the chassis was considerably slower than his All Kart. Parrilla didn't give much credit to Masini's words and fielded Senna with that chassis at the 135 cc World Championship in Parma, using a DAP T72 with a bore increased to a displacement of 127 cc: 8 cc below the maximum category limit. A suicide. Ayrton drove in Parma like someone from another galaxy, keeping his hand on the carburetor practically for all the laps of the final: he kept the carburetion at the limit of the impossible, enriching it to cool the engine and make it always ready to exit the curve. Riccardo Pavesi, present in the stands, told me during one of our cappelletti dinners that he had never seen anything like it in his life. In this maneuver, the Brazilian had an advantage, being left-handed, he could rely on the greater strength of his left arm. He finished fourth at the finish line, but he would have won easily if Parrilla had listened to Masini. 

The Jesolo, in fact, was a 2-support chassis, and it had a defect in the axle fixing bolts: these broke and made the axle move right and left in the curve, only stopped by the rubbing of the brake disc on the pad outside the curve being taken. Senna finished fourth with a chassis braked in the curve and with an engine 8 cc smaller than his competitors'. Achille Parrilla, realizing this only at the end of the race, in a moment of uncontrollable anger for what could have been an easy victory, cut the chassis into 4 pieces with his angle grinder and threw it in the garbage. Then, 35 years later, someone put up for auction the DAP Jesolo used by Senna at the 1981 Parma World Championship, and it was purchased by a bigwig from McLaren. Today, that kart is exhibited at the McLaren headquarters in Woking as "Senna's historic kart." It's a pity that it's not the real kart of Ayrton, but a simple Jesolo passed off as the cursed chassis, cut into 4 pieces and thrown in the trash by Achille "the pianist"! Did anyone inform them?

Created by: cggiuliano - 30/04/24

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