U.S. Grand Prix at Phoenix : Senna Will Try to Give Brazil a Sweep of America’s Top Racing Honors

Times Staff Writer

Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi took home America’s greatest racing prize last Sunday when he won the Indianapolis 500.

Now another Brazilian, Ayrton Senna, threatens to take home America’s round in the world Formula One championship series, today’s Iceberg U.S. Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Phoenix.

Last Monday, Fittipaldi sent Senna a wire wishing him well in today’s race, exhorting him to win for their mutual sponsor, Marlboro, and their mutual hometown, Sao Paulo.


Senna, 29, may have received some inspiration from Fittipaldi, 42, the former two-time world champion, but he probably doesn’t need it.

Senna, the reigning world champion, did not improve his qualifying speed during Saturday’s hour time trial, but his Friday lap of 94.287 m.p.h. over the 12-turn, 2.36-mile circuit in a McLaren-Honda was quick enough to put him on the pole for today’s 182-mile race.

It was Senna’s eighth consecutive pole and the 34th in his career, breaking him out of a tie with the late Jim Clark for all-time Formula One poles.

“I take the record from Jim Clark, a man I never saw racing, but by his results was obviously a very special driver, so it is a special experience for me to first equal and then break, his record,” Senna said.

Winning poles is not Senna’s only streak.

The talented Brazilian has won the last three Grand Prix, in San Marino, Monaco and Mexico. All three were won wire to wire. He has also won the last three U. S. Grand Prix, all in Detroit.

Although Senna did not better his Friday speed during qualifying, he posted a faster lap of 94.479 m.p.h. during morning practice.

“I could not seem to get my tires working as well as yesterday,” he said. “Perhaps without the pressure, too, I did not get myself wound up the way I usually do for qualifying.”

Senna had no challenge. His McLaren teammate, Alain Prost of France, was next fastest at 92.878 m.p.h.

If Senna and Prost finish one-two, as they have done twice already in four races this season, they will extend their all-time teammate record to 12. In the San Marino GP, they not only finished one-two, they both lapped the entire field.

Prost qualified the team’s backup car after crashing his primary car in morning practice.

“Considering the problems I’ve experienced today, I am quite happy with second place,” said Prost, who has been an unhappy driver most of the time because of what he has felt to be team favoritism toward Senna.

“I crashed my car this morning. It was my own fault, and it was the first time I badly damaged the monocoque (chassis) since I joined McLaren. Then this afternoon, my rear brake calipers were getting hot and I also got caught up in traffic. For sure, a very difficult day.”

Prost spun his car backwards into the wall in the sweeping hairpin turn just before the pits, severely damaging the right rear.

The Phoenix course, with wider streets and newly paved asphalt, proved much faster than street circuits at Detroit and Long Beach, where neither had a 90 m.p.h. lap.

Today’s race will be shown on ESPN at 1:30 p.m.