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Ayrton Senna? A genius pilot and analyst!

1991-2021: It‘s been 30 years since Ayrton Senna won his third and final F1 World Championship title at the wheel of a McLaren-Honda. On this occasion, Legends Magazine unveils an unknown episode in the career of the Brazilian prodigy: his participation in the 1000 km of the Nürburgring at the wheel of a Porsche 956. That day, July 15, 1984, revealed his driving genius.

“Oh, I didn’t know Ayrton Senna raced in a Porsche at the early stage of his career.” We have heard this remark on numerous occasions during the weeks of investigation which led to the writing of this article… During his first F1 season, the 1000 km race on July 15, 1984 at the Nürburgring circuit, Ayrton Senna competed in the Joest Racing at the wheel of a Porche 956; this was indeed the most little-known episode of his career. Little known yet revealing of his talents as a pilot and especially as a genius analyst. In any case, this is the opinion of the Portuguese Domingos Piedade who was at that time the sports director of Joest Racing.

During the long interview he gave us a few years ago at the Geneva Motor Show, Domingos Piedade revealed several details which allow us to understand better the formidable abilities of Ayrton Senna. “As I spoke Portuguese, it wasn’t long before I made friends with Ayrton and took care of his interests
at the start of his career” confided Domingos, who passed away on November 19, 2019, at the age of 75, after
a long illness.

In 1984, Ayrton Senna was only in his first F1 season and was driving a modest Toleman Although he distinguished himself by finishing 2nd behind Alain Prost in the Monaco GP which had been prematurely interrupted due to the rain, he was not well known to the general public yet. At most, he had been noticed during the VIP race that Mercedes organized on the 12th of May 1984, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Nürburgring circuit. During this event, racing at the wheel of Mercedes 190E 2.3-16, identical and close to the production model, he won, no less than before Niki Lauda!

Faster than his teammates despite the facthe was discovering the Porsche!

“Ayrton Senna and I thought that participation in the Nürburgring 1000 km could only be beneficial in order to know the track even better and thus have an advantage over other F1 drivers who had not yet raced on the new circuit”, explained Domingos. “As I was sports director of Joest Racing at the time, it was easy for me to find a place as a third driver alongside Henri Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson. I remember very well that Ayrton, absorbed in F1 testing, arrived late at the Nürburgring. So, he could only have completed a few laps at the end of qualifying, but that was enough for him to be faster than his teammates. That, behind the wheel of a car he had never driven before … That is to say his immense talent! ”

Henri Pescarolo, with his four victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1972, 1973, 1974 and 1984), his 56 participations at the F1 GP from 1968 to 1976, and with a 3rd place in Monaco as
and with a 3rd place in Monaco as his best result in 1970, had been named to take the start of the Nürburgring Unfortunately, a problem with the accelerator cable caused him to lose several laps. Domingos Piedade then asked Senna to do a double stint in order to make up a considerable part of the initial. backlog as quickly as possible. Almost at the last position, Senna’s Porsche 956 moved up to the 8th place.

“One day this guy will be a world champion!”

“One day this guy will be a world champion!” “When Senna took over from Pescarolo, the track was still dry, but it didn’t take long for the rain to fall,” continued Domingos Piedade. “Ayrton immediately radioed me to ask how many laps he had to cover before refuelling. There were only seven missing and he made the decision to stay with slick tyres on the soggy track. Once back to the paddock, he was fitted with the rain tyres and, as soon as he returned to the track, he performed a real demonstration.Never before had we seen a driver so fast with a Porsche in the rain. Not even Stefan Bellof, who was nevertheless considered a master in this field and who would ultimately win the race behind the wheel of the factory Porsche 956, which he shared with Derek Bell.”

Domingos Piedade also remembered very well that Manfred Kremer, the boss of the Kremer Racing Team, ran up to him to ask, “Who is this guy with a yellow helmet driving your Porsche like a god? I don’t know who he is but I can assure you that he will be a world champion one day! I have never seen someone be so quick and efficient in the rain.” As expected, Senna pulled over after his doublestint and left the circuit before the finish of the race, in order to reach Cologne Airport. as expected in England, at the Snetterton circuit, to test drive the F1 Toleman As soon as he arrived in London, Senna immediately called Piedade to give him his analysis of the race. “An analysis that is both very detailed and simply incredible,” Domingos Piedade told us. I have filled two pages of my notebook with lots of hints. From his memory, he has been able to indicate the speed and the turbo pressure at the entrance of each curve, and what were the modifications to be made in order to have a more efficient car when coming off a turn, in straight line and under braking! It was truly amazing. I then called Reinhold Joest, the team boss, to let him know about Senna’s comments. ” At that moment, Reinhold Joest did not want to believe Piedade, “It

is not possible, it is you who told him what was the turbo pressure that we used”, replied the German team manager. A driver who is fully into the race may not be able to analyse the behavior of the car in such a precise way. A “normal” pilot might not be able to do this, but Ayrton Senna was not a “normal” pilot! Reinhold Joest and Domingos Piedade weren’t going to be the only ones to notice. Peter Warr and Gérard Ducarouge, who hired Senna the following season at Lotus, would make the same observation. “Senna’s arrival at Lotus has been really positive. Ayrton benefits from a brilliant sensitivity for tuning. He feels the physical movements of the car perfectly and keeps his head cool enough to record everything”, said Peter Warr in 1985. Back then, direct telemetry did not exist. The F1 cars had a simple black box that had to be emptied in the pits for two or three minutes before they could read the recorded data. With Senna, no need to wait: each of his analyses was so precise and detailed that it corresponded exactly to the information delivered by the black box a few minutes later.
the black box a few minutes later.

“It’s really incredible, this guy is magic”, exclaimed Gérard Ducarouge one day, fallen under the spell of this young driver, capable after only one F1 season, of analysing the functioning of a single-seater and its engine in such a pertinent manner. The nickname “Magic Senna” was born! Domingos Piedade had at the time a formula even more explicit to describe the immeasurable talent of Senna, “Ayrton is the driver whose connection with his buttocks and the car is by far the most successful …”

Reinhold Joest and the people in charge of Porsche would have liked to see Ayrton Senna again at the wheel of a Porsche 956. Sadly, these 1000 km at the Nürburgring were going to be an experience without a future. This was Senna’s last F1 preformance, if we forget the Paris-Bercy karting race at the end of the 1993 season, 6 months before his fatal accident on May 1, 1994 on the Imola circuit.

Texte : LAURENT MISSBAUER
Images : PAUL-HENRI CAHIER, ARCHIVES PORSCHE.

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