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“33 years ago a young Brazillian called at our factory in Milan saying that he wanted to drive for us and win the world title. We already had Terry Fullerton, who I regarded as the world’s best at that time. However, I gave him a try out on the circuit at Parma and within five laps he had equalled Terry’s times despite never having driven Parma before, used a DAP frame or engine, a slide carb or Bridgestone tyres. Of course, we signed him up straight away.” (Angelo Parrilla)
The driver’s name was Ayrton Senna Da Silva, later to be known simply as Senna. Less than six years after that first meeting Ayrton finished ahead of all other F1 contenders at the Monaco GP. After qualifying 13th in an unfashionable Toleman, he had looked awesome on the wet circuit, eventually catching and overtaking the leader Alain Prost. Unfortunately, and contentiously, the race was red flagged and positions on the previous lap were counted giving the win to Prost. Nevertheless, a new phenomenon in F1 was born that day.
“Ayrton spent his entire karting career in Europe and South America racing for the DAP factory and enjoyed outstanding success, despite never actually winning a world title,” says Angelo. “He was obviously proud of his karting background and always talked about the sport even after winning three F1 world titles. We kept in touch with each other right up until the day he died in May 1994.”
Angelo’s family originated in Spain but moved to Southern Italy six centuries ago. His grandfather, Giuseppe, moved to America at the age of 50, in 1917, to find a job, eventually settling in Brooklyn. His eldest son Angelo died in one of the last battles of WW1 and was posthumously awarded a golden medal. Giuseppe moved back to Italy, to Mantova, and in 1927, aged 16, one of his other sons, Giovanni, journeyed from Mantova to Milan on the top of a truck to find a job. Seven years later Giovanni opened his own shop specialising in servicing car and truck electrics and truck diesel injection pumps. Giovanni was a fan of British motorcycles such as the Ariel and BSA and so, after serving under Rommel in Africa during WW2, he started a business in 1946 manufacturing 250cc single cam 4-stroke motorcycles. By 1950 he was producing 2-strokes, and in 1956 took on a young engineer called Cesare Bossaglia. Between them they designed the first rotary valve engine for use in motorcycle racing in 1959.
Whilst on a trip to America to visit the Moto Parilla importer Cosmopolitan Motors, Giovanni witnessed his first kart race and met up with representatives from Go Kart and K&P Manufacturing (Bug). He returned to Italy with a couple of Go Karts powered by Briggs & Stratton motors. Recognising the potential of this new sport, he sent out two employees for further talks with Bud Pierson of K&P. These discussions resulted in the first engine designed specifically for karting. Known at home as the Parilla V11, it was, of course, a rotary valve motor. For export purposes, it was marketed as a Saetta which literally translated as a “flash of lightning.”
As Europe began to recover from post war austerity, people started buying cars rather than motorcycles. This persuaded Giovanni to sell his factory in 1961, although he wisely purchased a car park and garage immediately next door. By 1962 he’d established a new company known as FIMAS (Fabbrica Italiani Mottori e Scoppio), dedicated to producing Saetta V12 kart engines that were now vertically mounted. Bossaglia had already left to form GBC with Bruno Grana and Vito Consiglio which produced kart engines under the brand name of Komet. This firm would in 1968 become IAME. There were now four Italian factories, Saetta, Komet, Guazzoni and Parilla, all competing for karting supremacy.
Former motorcycle champions Vittorio Brambilla, his brother Ernesto, and Ugo Cancellieri were taken on as Saetta works drivers. After moving into Formula One, Vittoria would eventually distinguish himself by winning the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix in heavy rain in an uncompetitive March car. Back in 1962, however, he was content simply to be recognised as Italy’s foremost karting exponent. Saetta was given a further boost when English driver Nick Brittan won the prestigious Dutch Kart GP in 1963.
Saetta V11 motors had been imported into this country initially by Bernie Turney, but he switched allegiance to Komet. Motor Karts Staffordshire, a firm better known for producing MKS racing suits, then stepped into the role of Saetta concessionaires. In 1964, John Mills took over from Motor Karts and he has maintained close links with the Parrilla family ever since. John’s younger brother Roger was one of Britain’s leading 100cc contenders and only a broken tooth on his engine sprocket prevented him from winning the 1964 British Championships at Shenington.
Guido Sala’s 1964 win in Rome made him the first CIK world champion. By 1965, rivalry amongst the various kart and engine manufacturers had heightened to such an extent that there was a perceived risk of it damaging the Italian team’s prospects. For this reason team members were compelled to use the same equipment, with Tecno karts and Parilla motors gaining approval. That year, the famous Komet K77 was introduced and soon proved its superiority over Saetta models.
There followed several lean years, but in 1970 a new company called DAP (Di Angelo Parrilla) was formed by Giovanni’s son Angelo and his younger brother Achille, effectively taking over from Saetta. Their motor was called a T70 due to the year of its inception. “Compared to the big karting concerns around at that time such as IAME and BM we were pygmies,” Angelo confesses. “There were no employees other than Achille and I. Our wives helped with the accounts, but only after 6pm as they were both in full time employment elsewhere. My wife Marinella worked for Ronson Lighters and Achille’s wife Mary for a furniture company”
By Angelo’s own admission, the T70 in its original form wasn’t a world beater. “We replaced it in 1972 with the T80 which at first was a good bit quicker. However, once a TT port was added, in 1977, the T70 suddenly became a real flyer. The idea of producing our own chassis hadn’t really occurred to us in those early years. Typically, our drivers had been using Taifun and Birel karts, but they began asking us for a dedicated DAP chassis. This led to us designing the Silver Carrera for which we received more than 280 orders from all over the world before it actually went into production. We were still a very small outfit so you can imagine the pressure that put us under. The Silver Carrera was followed by the WTR, the Jesolo and then the Greyhound.”
Unlike other karts of that era, all parts on the DAP Greyhound were magnesium alloy, adding around 20% to production costs. “I always considered that it was worth the extra expense to turn out a quality product,” says Angelo. “We were also the first kart manufacturer to use mono wheels as others were relying on split rims. For at least four seasons DAP became the team to beat in international events. Fullerton won the very prestigious Coppa dei Campioni event on three consecutive occasions from 1978 to 1980 and Harm Schuurman followed him as the 1981 champion. We also have to remember that Mike Wilson in 1977, in his first international race outside England, finished 3rd, easily, and won the last final.”
It was another Dutch driver, Peter Koene, who had given DAP their first world championship victory at Estoril in 1979. After all three finals, he was actually tying on points with Senna and, under previous rules of the best two to count, Ayrton would have won. “The CIK brought in a rule change while this race was still being run,” Angelo points out. “It was unprecedented in all the time I’ve been involved with the sport. Poor Ayrton was celebrating what he believed to be a world championship victory only to later find that it had been handed to his team-mate. Understandably, he was inconsolable and in tears.”
Two years earlier, Mike Wilson and Terry Fullerton had teamed up to give DAP a real lift at international level. “Mike proved to be a sensation when he drove for us in 1977,” Angelo concedes. “He was then offered a full time contract with IAME that we were unable to match. Nevertheless, I rate him alongside Senna, Fullerton and Schuurman as one of the top four kart drivers from his generation. For me it’s a great shame that all of Mike’s six world titles were won after the 135cc Formula K class was adopted, because his achievement has been diminished as a result.”
Angelo is very scathing about the CIK’s decision to run Formula K. “Everyone regarded it as a move entirely designed for the benefit of IAME who had previously developed a 133cc Komet B-Bomb engine for an American market that never really materialised. It meant that IAME achieved a monopoly and for nine years the world championships were effectively reduced to a competition between their factory drivers, with everyone else racing for minor places. This situation continued for nine years and I believe it was a wasted period in karting’s history.”
The counter argument is that other engine manufacturers had plenty of time in which to build and develop 135cc models of their own. Angelo immediately dismisses such a suggestion. “What you have to understand is that these motors were only ever going to be used by elite drivers at a small handful of events,” he insists. “It didn’t make commercial sense for any other manufacturer to spend time and money developing an alternative, so we simply used bored-out 100cc models. The whole thing was disastrous for karting and, incredibly, the CIK has gone down a similar route with its KF classes today.”
18 years ago Achille Parrilla started to manufacture Mari karts and Ital Sistem engines. Angelo chose to remain at the DAP factory in Milan. Amongst the more interesting DAP creations was a full bodywork kart with which his son Stefano captured the 1996 world endurance title followed by John Gay (1997) and Dave Bradley (1998). The motor used was a 100cc DAP T85.
The same version of this kart, driven by Dave Bradley, set a World Land Speed Record at Bonneville in 1996. “Bonneville was an amazing experience which I want to repeat very soon,” says Angelo. “We intend to take a really streamlined kart out there equipped with twin DAP rotary engines and expect to reach over 200mph this time around.”
Angelo smiles as he recalls having to share a Tecno/Saetta V18 with Achille back in 1967. “You don’t see that happening nowadays, but it was quite common practice during the sixties when the sport was more family orientated. I do believe that karting has generally become far too expensive for most families and I’m hoping that the Kartsport 4 All concept introduced by Harm (Schuurman) will make it affordable for many more people. DAP has provided the chassis and it’s powered by a modified 150cc 4-stroke Sym scooter engine. It’s designed so that an absolute beginner with no mechanical knowledge can maintain it at a fair competition cost.”
It’s fitting that this new DAP kart (tested by Martin Capenhurst in Karting magazine’s September 2011 issue) should be painted in the Brazilian national colours of Ayrton Senna. Angelo will be forever remembered as the man who first recognised Senna’s genius. However his record in karting is such that he deserves to be recognised for an awful lot more.