According to his own words, the first karting he had was when having 4 years. A gift of his father, built by his very hands using a lawnmower (with a horse power) so he could be able to exercise and correct the motor skill coordination problems of little Beco. Using the number 007 at front Ayrton played along his neighbors Roberto Kahvogian and Alfredo Popesco from Tremembé neighborhood (North west of Sao Paulo) reaching some 60kph taking advantage of the slope of Peter St. where he lived. And spent in the garage of the house assembling and dismantle the gift during hours and hours, until getting the right setup the wanted to race at the Anhembi Park’s track.
Again dad Milton bought the first kart for real when he was 9, a kart that had been owned by Emerson Fittipaldi no less, it weighed less than 50kg and with hydraulic disc brakes it reached up to 100 kph.
His first race was a few days later in a parking lot at Campinas, against drivers of 18 to 20 years. The start was defined by draw and he pulled the number one, getting his first pole-position of his life. Luck or destiny? As he was smaller and lighter than his rivals he escaped at front until lap fifteen when was overtaken and after, with only three laps remaining to the end of the race and he was third, was touched at the rear wheel and turned over for the first time… he couldn’t finish the race.
His father remembers: “I did everything for him not to enter the track. I retired the registration and put the kart away. But his insistence was such big that I ended giving up, with a requirement: not to start from pole, but from last. I lost in that stop too”. At the moment of the overturn, he frighted: “They kill the boy!” shouted, but “I came to the turn and he was already stood up, dusting himself and looking ugly to the boy that took him out of the circuit”.
But as he isn’t allowed to participate in official kart races until he hasn’t 13 years, Ayrton is pleased following the achievements of another Paulista, Emerson Fittipaldi. Who he even met personally during the first Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos in 1972: “I remember a father that introduced me his son. Named Ayrton… I kept exploring this driver that surprised me for his speed and seriousness.”
His first “official” race was in the Winter Tournament on July 1st, 1973 at Interlagos, competing with the karting #42 (interesting choice of the number that means ‘death’ in Japanese… I will post an extract from the book of Lemyr Martins about it) and wining the two races that contested, logically. A week earlier Milton had hired the services of a Spaniard military mechanic called Lucio Pascoal Gascon and nicknamed “Tchê” whom have already worked with Emerson Fittipaldi and José Carlos Pace, to perform as mechanic of his son’s kart. Tchê would keep company during the entire kart career until 1980, with exclusive dedication and creating a friendship that would last on time even on the FFord years in England. One time he commented that Ayrton “always came to a race to win it. For him, the others didn’t exist.” “He just raced to win. I tried to mind him, to cool him down. But for him wining was the only matter. He was always seeking perfection. Didn’t allowing a wheel twisted. He watched over everything, looking at every detail, without letting the slightest defect. At the competitions, he only trusted in watches. If others were quicker, he went out again to beat them. And it was similar in Formula 1.”
The next year in 1974 already got his first championship, being Paulista champion at the junior category, always with number 42 . In 1975 was Paulista champion in the 100cm³ category, and Brazilian runner-up and from the Itacolomy tournament in the junior category. And in 1976 was again Paulista champion keeping the same karting number, third on the Brazilian championship, champion of the Three Hours of Karting and Paulista runner-up all in the 100cc category.
In 1977 with 17 years participated for the first time of the South American championship made at San José, Uruguay although this time he couldn’t use number 42 since as it was an international tournament the numbers were given by the organization according to the registration order and Ayrton ended running with number 7 … but obtaining the same result of South American champion. Besides that he was Brazilian runner-up in the tournament organized at Interlagos and Paulista runner-up , also champion of the Three Hours of Kart.
1978 is the beginning of the truly international career . In August travels to Milan to test the DAP kartings of the Parilla brothers , the test at the Parma-Pancrazio track left the official driver of the Italians, the Irish Terry Fullerton completely skeptical of what he saw because Ayrton was breaking his record at a track that he hardly knew. Without time to waste he’s hired paying $6500 dollars (including equipment, spare parts and mechanics) to run at the Le Mans World Cup in September where for the first time he used a helmet painted by Sid Mosca, reaching 6º and being the contest revelation . Karting magazine described: “The second heat contained the new European individual champion Pierre Knops of Belgium and the extremely rapid Senna da Silva of Brazil using DAP equipment.
He was only in this series of heats because of a substantial penalty after a high noise reading in the time trials. It was a nice clean start and the Brazilian rapidly disappeared into the distance never to be challenged.” He won the third heat, but in the sixth “an early lead was lost when he had to retire”. The same magazine described the qualification tests: “The Brazilian Senna da Silva had arrived in Europe just 10 days previous to the Champoinships. By putting up third fastest time with his compatriot (Mario S. de) Carvalho fifth, Brazil was suddenly a force to be reckoned with and there was the intriguing possibility of the Championship going to a non-European for the first time.” So the finals include three heats, in the first Ayrton ended 17th, in the second after being second and go off the track ended collided with Mickey Allen while he tried a moving up, and in the third ended 6th.
Later he also would get the 4th place at the Sugo GP in Japan where he competed with drivers of all the world “there were so many people that the 20 qualified from each of the four rounds of the semifinals were defined in heats with a hundred of kart drivers” commented and in Brazil he established as Brazilian champion at Tarumã, champion of the Three Hours of Kart and Paulista runner-up.
In 1979 he’s South American champion again, Brazilian champion at Uberlândia and champion of the Three Hours of Kart. Is Paulista runner-up and also runner-up at the Estoril world cup competing this time with the number 15 and going as favorite. In one of the qualifying heats he suffers an accident “The accident was in the third semi-final where I only needed second place to take pole position for the first final. So I stayed in second place, chasing, right on the tail of the leader and suddenly his engine seized, I hit him and rolled over. I re-started and finished eleventh. The leader was… Fullerton! That accident eventually cost me the title.
The Championship was decided on places in the semi-finals.” And ended 8th in those first rounds. But for this year they have changed the rules and at the end the best two positions counted for the three finals, in case of tie there would be used the grid of the first final again and in that grid Ayrton started 7th… In the first final Ayrton took the lead and keeps it during seven laps, but he runs wide and goes off the track shortly before the end and finished in fifth place. In the second final he ended second behind his DAP’s teammate, the Dutch Peter Koene, and finally won the third and last final. He was tied in points with the Dutch and had defeated in the direct confrontation, but in the first grid Koene had started 6th beating him on the heats for only 4 tenth… so for the first time he felt that a tittle was taken away from his hands because hadn’t been the rules change he would have been champion.
The anger and deception were huge “it was the year the rules were changed. Previously if it was still a tie it was decided on your results in the Third Final. Now it was decided on the semi-final results.” I guess that deception made him insist in the pursue of this tittle even until when he was already Formula Ford champion. Sadly is the only thing that remained pending in the tracks.
For the year 1980 Ayrton already had 20 years and received a tempting invitation to race in the Van Diemen without the obligation to bring sponsors, but pressing by his parents that were against the idea, rejected it and challenged one more karting season. So he was again Brazilian and South American champion in Uruguay with Angelo Parilla’s presence and went to compete at Nivelles-Baulers world cup in Belgium . In the heats won by Stefano Modena he was tenth after he spun off but he managed to recover rapidly; so after the groups he was 9th.
Over the first final Karting magazine told: “Silva overtook Marcel Gysin with the Brazilian wavin his fist, apparently over baulking by the Swiss. Meanwhile Fullerton now had the lead followed by Silva and Gysin. The front eight were condensing into a solid column and Gysin’s thrust past Silva sent the Brazilian spinning off.” The second final was won by Ayrton, but in the third final the winner was the Dutch Peter de Brujin and kept the championship, leaving the Brazilian as runner-up again.
Paradoxically when more we start to know the Ayrton Senna racing driver already running at England in Formula Ford, less information we have of the Ayrton Senna kart driver that participates in the 1981 world cup at Parma, in Italy . Rules had changed about engines passing from 100cm³ to 135cc something he didn’t like because his kart clearly was lacking of power as he would explain: “I was one of the favourites and I was in a good position to win. But then the material I got was no good, the engine and the frame. They changed the regulations to allow 135cc engines and my frame was not strong enough for the engine. I could finish only fourth. I was very upset.” But anyway he was loyal to the DAP’s Parilla . In the first heat Ayrton only manage to get in 16th place, in the groups he was 3rd three times and in the finals 4th two times, giving him the 4th place in the championship general qualification.
The last attempt to be karting world champion was done in 1982 at Kalmar in Sweden with an old-fashioned team, delivering an useless last combat where he got a disappointing 14th place. Despite that had gone to Parma at the beginning of the season: “I have already been to Italy and DAP have built a brand-new frame. It is completely different. The engine is still not too good yet but we know where the problem is and the new parts will be ready soon.” Karting magazine commented: “All went well until da Silva stopped on his first lap with a flat tyre and was not allowed a re-run as he had passed the start flag.” Due to climatic conditions, ten drivers spun in the second semifinal and “overshadowing the efforts of the front-runners… was the meteoric progress of da Silva, his engine smoking copiously as he carved forwards from the very back of the grid to gain 22 places by race end.
The young Brazilian remains as unassuming as ever despite his successes in Formula 2000, and continued to affirm that it is karting that represents the great challenge.” The account continues about the third semifinal: “da Silva performed yet another of his miracles, once again climbing no less than 23 places on his long-suffering DAP.” In the semifinal 6 the same: “da Silva again made up a tremendous amount of ground.” And in the final itself: “The amazing Mr Silva made up half a lap deficit and then got all the way up to 14th.” His last tittle was established as Panamerican champion at Porto Alegre running a kart with number 6. And so he left kartings forever and dedicated to the maximum power cars.
writer: Laurinha Traducciones