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Editorial | 1981 Champions Cup: the most sensational race in the history of karting

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1981 Champions Cup the most sensational race in the history of karting

02 August 2022 • 11 min. read

The names of the participants (Senna, Wilson, Fullerton…) could portend an epic challenge. Yet nobody could have imagined what would happen on that weekend at the end of May in Jesolo. More than forty years later, we will tell you about it through the testimonies of some of the protagonists

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To understand what happened on that weekend at the end of May (from 29 to 31) 1981, on the Pista Azzurra in Jesolo, you need to take a leap back 40 years and immerse yourself in the context of the time. Top karting was very different from the present day: no trucks, tents, athletic or mental trainers. Only drivers-mechanics on one side and the track on the other. And then, the track: "Physically, explains Mike Wilson, the only driver in history to win 6 world karting championships, one of the undisputed protagonists of this story, it was one of the toughest in the world. I remember that one day I was talking to Terry Fullerton (another karting icon, multiple winner of the Champions Cup and also a participant in the 1981 edition, editor's note) and he too argued that making a 25 lap final in Jesolo was like one of 50 on any other track, because there was so much grip. It was difficult to keep all four wheels on the ground, also because in those days the tyres had very soft compounds and consequently a lot of rubber was deposited on the asphalt". But the Pista Azzurra was something more, it was a continuous challenge in terms of risk. When describing it, the weekly magazine Autosprint of the time, focused mainly on two points: the first "full" bend after the starting straight, which you enter at almost 150 km/h, with the barriers very close" and the so-called" new part, consisting of bends to be taken almost fully, and in any case way over over 100 km/h, where [...] the barriers are very close”. In short, if you got it wrong, you were out.
However, in rethinking the past it is important not to fall into the classic stereotype that describes karting in black and white terms as unprofessional: that of the 1980s was a mature kart, no longer pioneering, in which real manufacturers of chassis and engines specialised in this discipline, with their interests and their desire to win. In this context, the Champions Cup is one of the most important competitions of the entire international karting scene, capable of attracting participants from all over Europe and taking on the characteristics of the "classic" of karting, which would be the Paris-Roubaix for cycling: "Even if it was not a world championship test, winning it had a meaning comparable to winning the Monaco Grand Prix in Formula 1", says Gianni Bianchi, historic Birel chassis builder and Mike Wilson's mechanic in that 1981 edition.

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