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How Go-Karting Defined The World’s Best Racing Driver

Three off-road karts being driven in the mud.Strapping yourself into a go-kart and driving down a dedicated off-road track is one of the most fun experiences you can have behind the wheel.

A big part of that is go-karting is the purest form of motor racing. There are no driver aids, the speeds are fast enough to be exhilarating yet not so fast as to be inherently unsafe, and the karts themselves are typically equivalent in capability.

This makes racing a matter of fun and winning a go-kart race an expression of pure driver skill. One driver, in particular, believed in the purity of go-karting more than any other.


Where The Greatest Learned His Craft

The vast majority of successful racing drivers start their careers in go-karts, in no small part because it is the discipline of motorsport where drivers can start at the earliest age.

In the case of Ayrton Senna, he started karting at the age of four thanks to a machine built by his dad, getting his first full-size kart at the age of ten and racing as soon as he turned 13, the minimum age at the time for a child to start racing competitively.

His first race at Interlagos saw him qualify at the front of the field despite facing older and much more experienced racers, and leading the majority of the race before a collision with a rival driver caused him to be taken out of the race.

He won six championships during his karting career and was the runner-up in the Karting World Championship twice, even matching the points total of eventual champion Peter Koene in 1979.

Whilst he would leave the karting world behind in 1982 when he moved full-time into a single-seater racing career that would ultimately lead him into Formula One, he would note the importance of karting on his career on multiple occasions, and the influence of kart racing on his driving style is clear.

In an interview with Brazilian channel TV Cultura in 1986, when Mr Senna was driving for Lotus and briefly leading the Formula One World Championship, he stated that he loved go-karting more than Formula One.

He went as far as to say it was the most breathtaking sport in the world, and when Senna raced at his best was when he drove with the pure, exhilarating bravery he showcased in those early karting years.

Notably, in one of the last interviews he would ever do after his final race win in Adelaide in 1993 when asked who his greatest ever rival in his career, he named a figure from his karting days.

Rather than Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Martin Brundle or his then-upcoming showdown with Michael Schumacher in the ill-fated 1994 season, Mr Senna instead chose Terry Fullerton, the 1973 Karting World Champion.

Mr Fullerton was Mr Senna’s teammate in the Karting World Championship, and the two drivers were considered the best in the world, despite neither winning the World Championship whilst teammates.

Mr Senna loved racing against him, partly because of the karts themselves, partly because Mr Fullerton was far more experienced but also because there was a purity to the racing, absent of the politics common in the upper classes of motorsport.