Video: Ayrton Senna: Rally Driver!
In 1986, Ayrton Senna was on the crest of Formula 1 greatness. The Brazilian’s speed and dedication was never in doubt. His single-minded attitude to racing is well documented, and is brought out in the fantastic new Senna movie. However, how many of you knew that he spent a day rallying?
Very few journalists were able to get close to Senna. In the eight years I worked in Formula 1 for Autosport, I never had a one-on-one interview with him.
However one of my colleagues, Russell Bulgin (who I can’t thank enough for helping me find my feet in F1 and racing in general), had Senna’s ear. They became firm friends. Russell died in 2002 after a long illness, but that was after he produced some compelling stories.
That year, Russell pulled off what turned out to be an award-winning coup. It stopped you in your tracks when you saw the cover headline: “Ayrton Senna – Rally Driver!”
Yes, Russell had persuaded the-then Lotus Grand Prix race-winner into a Welsh forest to spend the day on forest stages in amongst other cars, a Metro 6R4, RS Sierra Cosworth and a 3.4 litre four-wheel-drive Ford Escort.
Cars and Car Conversions – or Triple C – thanks to Russell had the cover story of the decade, with photography to match by Norman Hodson and Tony Butler. Here are a few extracts.
Senna: “I know nothing about rallying, and I deliberately haven’t listened to anyone about rally driving. I want to find out for myself,” he said. His first run of the day was in the Cosworth, and he understeered wide towards the trees at the very first corner. It was a lesson, predictably, he learned from. “I almost went off there, so it was… surprising. Because I really went into that corner like a normal car,” he explained. “It was stupid, because you have to push it. Before the corner you have to commit. Now I understand why you have to use opposite lock.”
As ever, Senna absorbed that thought, and attacked on his second run. “I’m learning. It’s more difficult than you expect to do it properly. You have to have a lot of knowledge of the technical things – and a lot of confidence,” he said. “It makes you give even more credit to rally drivers, who do it the way that they do. Like they go the first time into a forest and they do it.”
The eight-page Triple C article is as fascinating a read today as it was in 1986. Such a collectors’ item, in fact, that there are no copies for sale on ebay. The story continues with his exploits in the other cars, plus an incredible analysis of the driving skills required. The Brazilian’s enjoyment of the experience comes through loud and clear as he gained more confidence.
He also earned huge respect from all the pro rally divers who provided the cars for the story. He summed up his thoughts after a long day. “Overall today has been much more exciting than I expected. I didn’t feel the time go by. Those people with their cars were curious as to what was going to happen. Everything was so new for me and there was a big question mark. For me a feeling of excitement, but I think 99 percent of those people thought I was going to stick it in the trees…”
In summary, Russell asked if he would be back for more.
“No, it’s just for today. Just for fun – and that’s it.”