When Autocar met Senna: 24 hours in the life of a legend

Posted in CAR NEWS on May 23, 2021

Then I remembered the man sitting just an armrest away. The man with more pole positions than anyone else in history and more grand prix victories than all but the considerably older Alain Prost; the man treated with more respect and trepidation than any other in motor racing. I was about to find out why. In an instant my faith returned, and although I knew that not even Ayrton Senna could get the NSX through that corner at that speed, I also knew that, somehow, it would be all right.

He twisted the wheel into the corner and then he braked. As he did so, the rear of the Honda flew into its inevitable, almighty slide that said unequivocally: "I am taking you and Mr Senna off this track and I'm not coming back." 

Mr Senna, however, had other ideas and simply pressed the pause button. This facility, denied to you and me, allows the finest drivers in the world to slow down the action to a more manageable speed and, in the case of a fast-moving NSX tail, stop it altogether. With a twist of opposite lock and just the right amount of throttle, it slid no further. It didn't come back; there was no need. It just hung there in a state of suspended animation, a few degrees off line, waiting until the nose kissed the rumble strip on the apex before snapping straight as we swept back towards the pits. 

I don't know how fast the NSX took that evil, drenched corner, but by the time I had got a grip on myself and my eyes back on the speedo needle, it was hovering above 90. Senna remained expressionless, and if he reads this I doubt he will even remember.

It's something I will never forget. But my laps with Senna weren't all like that. On the contrary: on the first lap the world champion trundled through corners at speeds I could match, chatting away, eyes shining. Patiently, he took time to talk me through the differences between the old circuit and the new.

Apologising for not having completed enough laps to make a proper evaluation‚ he nevertheless seemed to have committed the entire track to memory in considerable detail. As we enter Copse, the first corner past the pits, he observes: "You turn in earlier here and it's much faster now. It used to be smooth but now it's very bumpy."

Beyond the next short straight and Maggotts curve, the track jinks left, right, left through Becketts and Chapel. In his McLaren, Senna takes all of these in fourth, which he says is "quite fast". Clearly he is not a man prone to exaggeration.

Source@Tautocar.co.uk: Read more at: Best Sport Cars