The US Independence Day is celebrated on the 4th of July and it’s one of the biggest festivities in the country where Ayrton Senna won five times – twice in Phoenix and three times in Detroit.
Both GPs took place at street circuits, and the three-time F1 world champion was always dominant in that type of race.
Another interesting story involving the Brazilian driver in the US took place in 1992, when he tested an IndyCar race car. During the negotiations of his contract with McLaren for 1993, Ayrton took some time after the end of the 1992 season to test a Penske car at Firebird, a circuit in the Arizona desert, with his friend Emerson Fittipaldi.
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The 1986 Detroit GP was marked by a curious story. While Senna made Brazilian sports fans happy on the track, things didn´t go so well on the football fields of the FIFA World Cup that was taking place in Mexico. The Brazilian squad had just been eliminated on the previous day, in the match against France, the country of origin of several Renault mechanics that worked on Senna’s team.
On Sunday, Senna restored the Brazilian pride by celebrating his win with a gesture that would become his trademark. The driver stopped during the cool down lap to pick up a Brazilian flag and took a final lap while holding it high.
In 1987, Senna ruled the streets of Detroit once again, this time driving the yellow Lotus. The Brazilian started in second and trailed behind Nigel Mansell (Williams) for 33 laps. When the Britton stopped to change tires, the McLaren driver took the lead and stayed there. In a risky strategy, he took care of his tires and didn’t make a pit stop, unlike most of his rivals.
In the 1988 Detroit GP, Senna secured his sixth pole position in six races that year – an amazing performance that was starting to bother his McLaren teammate, Alain Prost, then a two-time world champion (1985-1986). Leaving his competition behind, Senna won from start to finish, with a 38-second advantage over Prost and lapping Benetton’s Thierry Boutsen, who finished in third.
Surprisingly, a heavy rain fell on the Arizona desert during Saturday’s qualifying sessions for the 1990 Phoenix GP, which meant that only the times posted on Friday would be considered. Therefore, Ayrton started in fifth place. On Sunday, Senna was able to jump to second place during the first few laps, but Jean Alesi was unwilling to give up his position. Senna doggedly pursued him and, on lap 34, overtook Alesi at the end of the main straight. But he couldn’t have predicted that Alesi would recover on the following corner with a switchback.
One lap later, the Brazilian showed why he was that year’s odds-on favorite: after braking at the same time on a corner, Ayrton pointed his McLaren inwards and made it impossible for Alesi to take back the lead. The Frenchman was ready to try another switchback, but this time Senna closed the door on him. It was Senna’s fourth win in the US.
Unlike his win in the previous year, Senna didn’t have to start in fifth to win in Phoenix. In 1991, he secured the pole position with a one-second advantage over Prost (Ferrari) and led the race for 81 laps until receiving the checkered flag. The win in Phoenix was the start of an amazing season for the Brazilian, who opened a comfortable lead in the standings that proved instrumental at the end of the year against the Williams driven by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese.
The test with Penske
Worried about the engine change McLaren was planning for 1993 – using Fords instead of Hondas – Senna even considered taking a sabbatical away from F1.
That led Ayrton to the Firebird raceway, a small circuit in the Arizona desert, close to Phoenix. In the narrow, truncated track, that “looked like a go-kart circuit”, in the words of Emerson Fittipaldi, Senna took his first and only laps in an IndyCar racing car. He drove the Penske PC21 with a Chevrolet turbo engine used by the team in the 1992 season.
Check out the full story in the Senna Tv episode below: