Simon's snapshots #6

Racing History

A series in which Motor Sport’s features editor raids the loft to salvage grainy fragments from his racing past

Oulton Park, early morning, the summer of 1981

It’s probably a sign that my interest in photography was waning, largely because it was getting in the way of the written word (and Motoring News was by then paying me £1.40 per column inch), but my once obsessively detailed filing system contains absolutely no information to confer a precise date on this image. I don’t even remember taking it, or why I took it, but I know for certain that it’s 1981… and either May 24, June 27 or July 25.

At first glance it’s just a snap of a partly dismantled Van Diemen RF81, passing through Oulton Park’s scrutineering bay while assorted parties discuss the details. And the monotone fails to identify the upper bodywork as yellow, which would have been a clue to the car’s provenance. To the left, though, is well-known Van Diemen mechanic Malcolm ‘Puddy’ Pullen – and the scrutineer is cradling one of the most famous liveries in the history of crash helmet art: yellow, with green and blue bands as patriotic addenda. Almost the only thing missing from the shot, in fact, is Ayrton Senna da Silva, as then he was known.

I’d like to think he’s in the old Oulton Park café, tucking into a full English laced with brown sauce, but suspect he’s probably back at the truck, deep in thought, visualising every millimetre that’s about to unfold. He raced in Cheshire three times that season – once in the RAC Championship and twice in the Townsend Thoresen – and won with equal frequency.

We all had the impression that he might be quite good.

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