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GP Week : Issue 123
“I think we might have a problem ...” Yeah, what? “ There’s this young Brazilian kid turned up. Bit rough, but pretty quick. First time he’s run on Bridgestones and he’s pretty damn quick ...” Guess who. The two would be the DAP engine factory strike-force for the next two years or so. Ayrton Senna da Silva, as he was then known, (before ditching the da Silva for his mother’s more rare maiden name) had a pretty good debut championship at Le Mans, finishing fifth I think. Fullerton should have won it but, well, shit happened – but amid all the drama, he was responsible for the best, THE best motor race I have ever seen. Over the years I have been fortunate to see some terrific things – Keke Rosberg hurling a Williams around Brands Hatch on qualifiers; that cliff-hanger championship finale in Adelaide in ’86; Senna’s pole laps at the same venue ... but the first final at that 1978 World Kart Championship will remain with me for ever. World Kart championships are usually pretty good ‘motorsport’ races anyway, but that one race defines to me what Fullerton was, and why Ayrton would subsequently have said what he did. To set the scene, we blew the heats. Silly stuff, but all of a sudden we almost missed the finals (in those days three, with best two counting). TF only got into the 34-man field via the last-chance repechage race, and would start 32nd (rising British youngster Mike Wilson was in the same boat, starting 34th). We had a couple of tweaks saved for the finals and so, as we lined up, there was a certain confidence we had some speed, but the way the weekend had gone so far ... It was the most awesome motor race I ever saw. The best comparison I can give you is the much-lauded opening lap that Senna put together at Donington Park in that wet European Grand Prix, when he passed four cars in that one lap to hit the lead. Imagine that going on for lap after lap after lap. That’s how it was at Le Mans. Fullerton treated the world’s best with contempt, passing people in places they’d never remotely thought it could happen. It was breathtaking. By around lap 15, he was, I think, sixth or seventh. From 32nd to sixth ... with 10 to go, the unthinkable, a win, was on. It really was the greatest race I ever saw – perhaps the personal involvement magnified it ¬ but it was simply brilliant. Even though it ended badly ... Next victim up the road was a Swiss regular top fiver called Marcel Gysin. The two had history and when TF appeared unannounced down the inside, Gysin saw him, yet still turned in, they collided and both went end-over-end off the end of the straight. By the time I got there, Terry was squaring up to the Swiss team manager, who’d taken exception to the whole thing. The kart was wrecked and, I have to admit, my heart sunk. It was over. Well, no actually. You were allowed a spare chassis and three engines in those days and, as only two out of three finals counted, Terry’s comments as we trudged back to the pits were succinct: “ We can still do this.” Shit, he was right. There wasn’t a lot of time, but we did front up for the second final near the back of the grid with the spare set-up. But in the rush, the young Italian mechanic who’d been assigned to assist, put 1.6 atmospheres (26 lbs) in the front tyres instead of 16 lbs. Terry knew it was over on the warm-up lap ... At the end of that year, Terry left Zip Karts to race his own karts, built under licence by DAPs . I had a change too, launching ‘Kart & Superkart’ magazine, published by Zips, early the following year. That allowed me to watch on over the next couple of years as the Fullerton/Senna contest evolved and matured. Ayrton soon had a sense of his own worth, his own stature and skill. His style was unique. He could pretty much match anyone ... with one exception. When they ended up one-on-one it was tight, tough, but always pretty fair. TF was the one guy Ayrton respected, but never quite mastered. These days, Terry suggests that, had Ayrton stayed on in karts for longer, he may well have got on top. I'm not so sure. Far Left: Nivelles, 1980 – De Bruyn, Senna, Gates, and Swiss Bad Boy Marcel Gysin. Gates tried to pass Senna but was driven off the road ... Centre and above: Fullerton . . . an obsessive tester. Far right: Senna – thought he’d won the world championship in 1979, but lost on a tie-breaker. Photos: Kart & Superkart (John Pudney). “I think we might have a problem. There’s this young Brazilian ... 34