25 years without Ayrton

- Stories
25 years after the death of the Champion, we commemorate him through the words of his rival at the time of karting, Mike Wilson.

May 1st 1994 will forever remain a milestone, as well as a black page, for motorsport. On that Italian afternoon on the Imola track, Ayrton Senna lost his life, the darkest weekend in F1 history.

Remembering Ayrton Senna is more than dutiful, not only for the man and the driver he was but, above all, for what he represented for this discipline. Senna belongs to that lot of unparalleled heroes without limits who have characterized the world of motor racing.

The following is the interview with Mike Wilson, the Brazilian's rival at the time of karting.
“The first memory I have about Senna? I heard this Brazilian kid was testing for the first time in Parma with Terry Fullerton and he was just as quick. It was 1978. I knew Fullerton was a very fast driver and I couldn’t believe it. Then, the first time I raced against Ayrton was a few months later in Jesolo, and I was extremely surprised! You see, normally, when you have a kid from Brazil coming to race in Europe, even if he’s Brazilian Champion, he still has a lot of difficulty.... but in Ayrton’s case it was different! He was extremely fast from Day 1, and even throughout all the years we raced against each other he was a tremendously competitive.”

Apart from the speed, what was particularly striking about him?
“He was very mature for his age, enormously motivated and focused, and very careful in choosing his material. Also, his feedback was very accurate and he learned very quickly. He always had a very professional approach, even for European standards, and he was fierce.”

Ayrton also mastered the wet track like no other...
“Yes, and it caught me and Fullerton absolutely by surprise. I remember the first race in Jesolo in 1978, the track was dry in the early sessions. Ayrton was very fast, then it started raining, and I thought that he was going to have trouble with it as I presumed it didn’t rain that much in Brazil. On the other hand, Terry and I come from England, so it would have been surely an advantage for us, as we were used to race in the wet as well. But as Ayrton started lapping in wet conditions, he was even faster, and I thought to myself: ‘it can’t be that a Brazilian driver is quicker than two Englishmen in the rain!’ But then, later on in his career, the whole world would get to know Senna as the rain master we knew him to be already in Karting.”

It seems that his human side came alive when he didn’t feel the pressure of rivalry and competition...
“Absolutely, and it’s quite understandable. Obviously, when we were competing he wasn’t going to come over and say ‘you’re a very good driver’, because we were rivals. But once the competitive element was removed, he was very keen in giving credit to my fantastic results, also because he knew how hard winning a Karting World Championship was. I think he should have won the title in 1979, which he didn’t because of a regulation change, but had he stayed in karting a little longer he would have become World Champion, no doubt about it! He was one of those people who has an amazing talent, the motivation and the quality to become the world champion, and he proved that later on in formula racing. Of all the drivers I’ve seen over the past 30 odd years, Ayrton is by far the best.”

You then met him at that famous indoor karting event in Paris Bercy in 1993...
“Yes, and I got to know him even more, as we spoke a long time. He simply was a fantastic person to speak to, and even more so because he didn’t have the pressure of being at a Formula 1 track, and he really enjoyed it. He loved Karting, and he did a hell of a lot for the sport. When anybody interviewed him, he always made a point of the fact that he started racing in go-karts. He wanted people to know that Karting was where it all started. And when the massive crowd in Bercy saw him coming out on the kart, the reaction was simply awesome. Everyone went crazy. It was an incredible moment. What was even more outstanding, his racing style looked exactly the same as I remembered him in karting 10 years or so before. To watch Ayrton racing around Bercy was like watching him when he raced in Estoril in the Karting World Championship; he looked like he got out of the kart the day before. What an amazing driver!”

Testo: S.C.
Intervista originale: S.Murtas

Traduzione: L.Monteferrante
Credits: Vroom Archive, Actualfoto, Iame


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