Americans, in general, weren’t huge soccer fans, but the atmosphere surrounding the 1986 World Cup had reached Detroit, that weekend.
Senna had scored the pole position on Saturday, with a lap of 1min38s201, more than half a second ahead of rival Nigel Mansell. It was Senna’s fourth pole-position after seven races in the 1986 season. But while Senna made Brazilians happy on the tracks, the national squad was eliminated on the turfs of Mexico, in the quarter-finals, by France, the country of origin of most of the mechanics tied to his Lotus’ Renault engine – and of rival Alain Prost.
The small group of Brazilian fans on the circuit had a special request for the driver, that Sunday: to beat Alain Prost and restore Brazil’s reputation. Ayrton Senna laughed at the sign being held up, gave a thumbs-up to them and got into his gold and black car. The Brazilian had accepted the challenge.
Even after making a mistake when switching gears, at the start of the race, which cost him the lead to Mansell, Senna regained the first position at lap number eight, and immediately started widening the gap. However, a few laps later, a blown tire made Senna drop to eighth, 20 seconds behind the new leader, René Arnoux.
Senna got out of the pit lane with a renewed disposition, and started a series of amazing overtakings. He passed Michele Alboreto on lap 15 and Stefan Johansson on lap 17. Arnoux, Prost, Mansell e Laffit stopped to change tires and Senna took the opportunity to steal the second position, only 1s7 behind leader Piquet.
After Piquet’s pit-stop, Senna made the best of his 30s leadership and won well ahead of the two Frenchmen who shared the podium with him: Laffite in second place and Prost in third.
“When I was behind Nelson (Piquet) and I saw him go into the boxes, I knew that I could pass him. Afterwards, he ran into the wall.”
During his slowing-down lap, Senna saw a fellow Brazilian next to the track with a Brazilian flag. He didn’t think twice before stopping, taking the flag and finishing the lap while holding it up – a gesture made famous through several of his victories. The race couldn’t have had a better ending!