Famous Driver

Ⓒ2018 Technolab / PedrosGarage.com

Famous American Racecar Driver   by Pedro P. Bonilla (GCR PCA)

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Every now and then, instead of technical stuff, I also like writing about personal stories relating to Porsches.  This one in particular has just a hint of Porsche content but it mostly relates to my other passions, Formula1, and little karts that go fast and burn gasoline laced with nitro-methane and castor oil, so here it is:


Back in the last century, in the 1990s, in another life, when I was part of the corporate world, I had to travel constantly.  One of those trips took me to Brazil, São Paulo to be more precise.

I had been to São Paulo multiple times before but I’d never had any free time to see the sights, since my hectic schedule usually was: overnight flight from the US, go to hotel, shower and change, go to long meeting, then to dinner with business host, back to hotel for a few hours of sleep, early morning visit to the plant, wrap up negotiations, back to airport, evening flight and return home.  Repeat next week in another country.


On this particular trip we were able to reach our business agreements very quickly and suddenly found ourselves with some free time.

My business host asked me if there was anything that I’d like to see or do while in São Paulo and I told him that there were actually two things that I’d love to do.

One was to pay my respects to the greatest racecar driver ever, Ayrton Senna, who had died just the year before, and the other one was to visit the Formula 1 track of Interlagos (Autódromo José Carlos Pace).

My host, who was an F1 maniac like 99.9% of Brazilians, was all smiles.  He told me that it would be a pleasure for him to take me to both places and as an added bonus we would take his beautiful Guards Red 944S (this is the extent of the Porsche content).

We chitchatted a little as we made our way to the Morumbi Cemetery in São Paulo which took about 90 minutes, as we fought through the intense traffic of the largest metropolis of the Southern Hemisphere.

When we arrived you could hardly tell it was a cemetery.  It looked more like a park, since you couldn’t see any vertical headstones or monuments.  We slowly made our way to the big tree in the center of the concentric rows of tombs, each with a small, discreet plaque on the recently mowed grass.

Ayrton Senna’s is very simple and somber.

technolab

Published in the July 2018 issue of “Die Porsche Kassette”

The bronze plaque reads:

Ayrton Senna da Silva

21-03-1960    01-05-1994

NADA PODE ME SEPARAR DO AMOR DE DEUS.

Nothing can separate me from the Love of God.


We spent there about a half hour and left without saying a word.  It was a moving experience, since Senna had been my all-time favorite racecar driver and I had followed his career very closely.  His fatal racing accident was still fresh in my mind since it had happened less than a year before while he was leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy.

After we left the cemetery we headed south.

“Lets go see Autódromo Carlos Pace.  It’s only about 10 kilometers” (6 miles) my host said, breaking the silence with a cheerful voice.

Indeed it was a quick drive but when we got there the main entrance was closed!

We parked to the side and I walked up to the cyclone fence to try to see the cars that were on the track.  I couldn’t see the track from there but I could hear the screaming engines of various 4 cylinder powerplants going around the track.

My host had walked to the gate, a few yards away and I could see him talking to someone on the other side.  After a short time, he waved me over and said: “Get in the car, we’re going in”.

I asked him how he had got permission and he said: “Oh, I just told the guard that you were a famous American racecar driver visiting Brazil and that you wanted to see the track”.

Immediately I jumped in the car, the gate opened and we drove in.  We made our way to the tunnel and to the infield, then to the pits.  What I had been hearing was a foursome of Formula 3 cars that were practicing and were now coming into the garages.

We got out of the car and walked all around, looking at the cars, equipment, etc.

After about 30 minutes, when we were about to head back to the car, I heard someone call out my name but I didn’t react.  Pedro is a common Brazilian name so it must be some other Pedro, I thought.

“Pedro!” the voice called out again and this time I turned around.  “I knew it was you!” he said.

I can’t believe my eyes.  There, in front of me was one of my former rivals from my old Karting days.  We both had made it twice to the CIK’s (Commission Internationale de Karting) Pan-American Championship 25 years earlier.

In 1970 I had bested him, finishing in 11th and he in 13th place overall, and two years later he bested me by only 1/10th of a second grabbing 10th place and leaving me out of the final runoff championship race.

We looked at each other not knowing what the greeting protocol should be.  Do I smack him or shake his hand?, I though to myself.

We then just hugged and patted each other in the back. Kind of hard if, I remember correctly.

He then asked me:  “What are you doing here?”  I said:  “Just looking.  I’m in São Paulo till tomorrow and came by to see the track.  What about you?” I asked.  He said:  “I am coaching some young drivers at the Kartódromo Ayrton Senna, over there, next to the track”.  Then he said: “You think you still have it in you?”  I answered: “Do you have a helmet for me?”

He said:  “Let’s go and find out!  Follow me in your car”. He hopped into his golf cart and we followed in the car.  We made our way out of the infield and onto the circular access road towards the Karting School’s track.  There my old friend had his guys quickly prepare two of the training Karts for us and we went at it.

We did 8-10 laps passing each other several times.  This was a much friendlier battle than our previous encounters and I still remember the feeling to this day.  It was just wonderful! … and to top it off it was at Senna’s hometown track, where he had raced his Kart and won many times.

We spent another 45 minutes or so there and we were shown around the compound.  After being all caught-up, in our lives, we hugged again, promised to keep in touch and I headed back to the car with my business host.

When we were in the car, just leaving the track my host turned to me and said: “Wow!  I wasn’t lying when I told the guard that you were a famous American racecar driver.  Who knew!”