Senna’s first racing car at Race Retro

by Graham Keilloh on 30th January 2019

The distinctive RF81 driven by Ayrton Senna will be at Race Retro

A restored Formula Ford Van Diemen raced by the late great Ayrton Senna at the outset of his car racing career has been confirmed as one of the major crowd attractions on display at this year’s Race Retro, powered by Motor Sport.

The yellow Van Diemen RF81 has been meticulously restored by Van Diemen founder Ralph Firman, who gave Senna his car racing break with this machine on the very same Norfolk industrial estate that it was originally built.

On February 22-24 at Stoneleigh Park near Birmingham, this will be the car’s first public viewing since the restoration and is a must-see for all Senna and motor sport fans. It represents a major milestone in racing history.


Gallery: Ayrton Senna's Van Diemen RF81


Senna – still known then as Ayrton da Silva prior to him taking on his mother's birth name, something represented in 'A Da Silva' being written next to the cockpit – cut his car racing teeth in a RF81 in 1981, his first season out of karts.

He arrived at Attleborough in Norfolk with no contract. Firman, having been introduced to Senna by former Van Diemen racer and soon-to-be Formula 1 driver Chico Serra, decided to give him a go.

Just two weeks after his car racing debut, Senna took first his win in only his third race.

It set up him to canter to that year’s RAC and Townsend-Thoreson FF1600 championships with 12 wins and six other podium finishes. This set Senna on his way in single-seaters, and by the start of 1984 he had made his F1 debut.

“We are deeply honoured to have the Van Diemen at Race Retro and thrilled that our visitors will be the first to get a closer look at this incredible racing car,” said Race Retro’s acting show director, Lee Masters.

You can also read more about Senna's Van Diemen RF81 in the December 2018 edition of Motor Sport, which you can download or buy here.

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