Terry Fullerton Interview – Sennas greatest rival?

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This interview was conducted in 2012 by Junior Torque editor, Richard. 

Terry Fullerton was the 1973 Karting World Champion, and was Ayrton Sennas team mate during 1978, 1979 and 1980. After hanging up his helmet in 1984, he has turned his attentions to driver coaching, and has coached some of the hottest young talents in Motorsport.

After being involved in Karting his entire life, the original ‘Weetabix kid’ speaks to Torque about his career….

The news today is that the Super KF European championship has been ditched, what are your thoughts on this?

Well I don’t think the factory teams really want to support it so I knew it was in the offing. I think there’s 10 meetings with the WSK that the factory teams are involved in so I think the teams are pretty busy with that. WSK has been the more successful and more dominant series recently.

Where do you see Super KF going from here, can you foresee Rotax taking over as the World Championship?

Nah not really because the driving force in World Karting really is Northern Italy with Birel and Tonykart and CRG so they are really still the powerhouse of karting, and they’re all producing their own engine, and so they’ll be championships and series run just to satisfy them. I’m sure Rotax will continue but I don’t think it will take over, not in my opinion anyway.

So you’ve coached a lot of young drivers Terry, what do you think the single biggest factor is to driving a kart fast?

Ummm… I think sort of inborn ability is number 1 probably, number 2 is to be obsessional and determined in what you’re doing, and just being very obsessive over your career, never give in, never give up, always try and get the edge. You’ve got to have the mentality and a habit of succeeding, and couple that with some inborn ability and you’ve normally got a winner!

What do you think of the karts these days with all the technology and bodywork etc?

I think in certain directions it’s improved, safety without a doubt has improved which is a good thing because back in my day with the air cooled engines, especially with the way they were developing in those days, and no clutches on the karts the engines would seize normally at the most vulnerable part of the track, the fast corner at the end of a straight, the engine would lock solid and you’d be in the fence. I couldn’t tell you how many times that happened to me in my career, maybe 40 or 50 times that happened to me. The big races you go to nowadays if you see 1 kart roll it’s a bit of an occasion, whereas back in my day you could see 4 or 5 karts roll. One bad accident now is pretty unheard of.

What’s one aspect of old school karting that you’d like to see in modern day karting or do you think it’s all improved for the better?

Ummm… o dear you’ve got me fooled on that one! Ummmm…. there is a slight problem at the moment and that’s the weight limit and the weight of the karts just going up and up and up, and the governing bodies are trying to cover all eventualities about touching and incidents with cameras and nose cones and speed limits at the starts, and that’s all going too far as far as I’m concerned. They need better officials to control the starts properly, they don’t need speed limits and they don’t need pace cars, they just need officials that know what they are doing, and we’ve had a whole series of officials that don’t really know what they’re doing. I mean god knows what they were doing with pace cars in Europe not so long ago, they were atrocious, it was really stupid, but eventually it wiped out two or three of the officials and broke legs and collar bones, and within a year they got rid of it. It was obviously a big accident waiting to happen, and it did eventually, and it was lucky it got the officials and not the drivers.

Well I guess it usually takes an accident to make people act…

Yeh they wouldn’t change anything immediately because then they’d look bad, so they kept it going initially and then they stopped it, it was stupid, really stupid. It was one of those Legend cars and obviously back then we had a big noise problem in karting, and when that thing started up it was much noisier than a whole grid of karts! And what’s a racing car doing on a go kart track, it’s like having a go kart being the pace car for the Daytona 500, its absurd!

Well you could probably manage that in a Gearbox kart…

Well that’s what they should have done for the karting, the pace car should have been a gearbox kart, but anyway!

Obviously you’ve raced against other karting legends such as Mike Wilson..

Yeh I raced against Mike from about ’73 or ‘74 to about ’84, I think he won the title from about ’85 to ’89.. I packed up in ’84 when it went to 135cc which was a different category they made which was a little bit like Super KF which started off with good support but by the time Mike won his last championship I think there were 21 entries at the World Championship!

… A little bit more than what they’ve got now I suppose!…

Well they’ll get more than that, I was at the World Championship last year and they had about 48 or 49 so double what they had at the end of the 135 class that the CIK pushed through in the 80’s. I raced against Senna, me and Senna were team mates for 3 years..

Was that at DAP?

Yeh, in ’78 ’79 and ’80 me and Senna were team mates.

That must have been quite an experience?

It was, it was fun yeh, and he was a very gifted little driver… well I say little, I mean a very gifted driver! At the time when I first met him he was 17 and when he went to cars he was 20 I guess so I was about 26 when we first met and 28 or 29 when he went to cars so I had more experience than he did, but he was obviously a very gifted driver.

Yes we’ve got a video of I think the 1980 World Championship..

.. at Nivelle in Belgium I’m guessing?

Yeh and I think Peter De Brujn won…

Yeh De Brujn won it, Senna was 2nd, and I think I ended up 3rd…

Yeh but there is some great footage of you on 2 wheels!…

Well in that World Championship they used to have 3 finals in those days and if you won 2 finals you were the world champion obviously as they take the best two. I won the first final by a long way; I was in the lead of the second final by a long way when my engine broke with 7 laps to go so I had a win and a non finish, so I started at the back in the last final and finished 3rd so I only got a 3rd overall.

We’ve got a book on Aryton Senna that claims that he said that you were the best driver he ever drove against.

Yeh that was in 1994 at a press conference, it was very flattering! I’ll hold on to that one, definitely, until I die. I actually know one of the journalists who were at that press conference and he repeated it word for word to me. He died that same year so that was only a couple of months before he died.

There was a rumour you’d be racing at the 2007 Kart Masters, was there any truth in these rumours?

No I never said I’d do it, they did ask me but I never said I’d do it, I’m too heavy, it’d be absurd, I’m 100 kgs, I’ve turned into a proper fat bastard basically! I actually told them that at the time but they pushed it through as a kind of publicity stunt with me and Mike Wilson I think, with Paul Fletcher and we were all going to race, but I’m not quite sure if any of us said we would. There’s no way I’m getting back in a go kart!

When was the last time you raced Terry?

Probably 1988, something like that, so more than 20 years ago!

Was that in karting still?

Yeh that was in karts, I raced a formula ford a few times in 1989 I did 3 races in Junior Formula Ford because someone offered me a free drive, but the last time I raced a kart in anger was 1988 in Hong Kong.

Why did you race under an Irish race license?

It was a long long time ago I’d won the British Jnr Championship in 1966, 67 and 68 and in 67 I became a Senior and in those days they used to have what they called a Team Selection meeting, so I went to a team selection meeting and finished 2nd in one of them and was in a very good position in the other when the engine blew up, so basically I’d done enough to be selected for the 4 man British team, but they didn’t select me. My blood line is Irish so I can legally get an Irish passport, so I did that and entered the World Championships and the European championships as an Irish driver, went and got experience… didn’t do very good… and then the next year the same thing happened they refused to select me again, when I was obviously good enough they refused to select me, in fact the bloke that was in charge of the team called Doug Geoff obviously didn’t like me so it was a bit of a problem. So I did it again as an Irish driver, got more experience, I think I finished in the final of the World Championships that year 15th or 16th or something like that, and then the following year they did select me and I came 4th in the World Championship in 1971 for England, the highest placed British driver.

And then you became our first British World Champion of course?

Yeh that was 1971 when I came 4th, then in 1972 I was on the front  row of the grid for the final when a plug went wrong or something and then in ’73 I won the World championship.

Who’s the best all round driver you’ve ever coached?

It’s pretty hard but the shoe off would be between Allan McNish and Anthony Davidson, it would be between them two probably.

Bizarre question but were you the original Weetabix kid?

Yes I did do a Weetabix ad when I was 14 years old yeh, they did a film shoot down at Rye House for the day and then I did a film shoot in a studio in the west end of London. I’d actually tried a couple of times to do it but not managed it. It was shown nationally for probably 6 months in ’66 or ’67.

Who do you think the next up and coming British driver is?

Well I’m heading to Lake Garda in Italy now for a WSK round and I’m coaching a kid called Jake Dennis, and he’s sponsored by the Racing Steps foundation and they’ve chosen me to coach him, and he is very good. At the moment looking around personally I think he’s got a lot of potential, good at listening and a quick learner, obviously there is always down sides to every driver but this kid looks like he has a lot of potential. As for a European kid that has a very good chance of ‘making it’ I’d say Max Verstappen, Jos Verstappen’s son. He’s winning the Junior WSK races at the moment and he’s very good. You know kids change so much as they grow up, some that look really good in karts fizzle a bit at 17 or 18, sometimes the ones that didn’t look so great improve massively at 17 or 18 so it’s pretty hard to read the future.

Ok Terry well thanks for your time…

Not a problem, Karting is a great sport, it’s a pity it’s getting more expensive but it’s great for kids to be involved with and teaches them a lot about themselves. I’ve earned my living from it nearly all my life, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for to karting, and I still enjoy it and look forward to the racing still. I’m a karting pensioner now, an OAP of karting!

Author: Clerk of the Course

The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!

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