Macau's race ace memories
By ALVIN SALLAY
WITH reverence, Japanese tourists Kei Kawakami and Eisuke Kato touched the wheels of the Ralt Toyota RT3 racing car at the Macau Grand Prix museum yesterday.
The gentle caresses were their way of paying homage to a man they had always admired but never had the chance to meet - a situation common to millions of shocked fans of Ayrton Senna.
''We always watched him on television. He was our hero. We still can't believe he is dead and it is very, very sad,'' 26-year-old Kawakami said.
Here on holiday, the Japanese racing enthusiasts found that the car Senna drove in his last Formula Three race was on exhibit at the Macau GP museum.
A black ribbon draped right across the length of the car reminded them of the tragedy that occurred last Sunday at Imola, Italy.
The car was the vehicle which Senna drove to victory on November 20, 1983, at the 30th Macau Grand Prix. That was his last Formula Three race. Senna then turned his back for good on F3, joining the Toleman-Hart Formula One team in 1984.
''He remembered Macau with a lot of gratitude, and he told me that it was his most decisive win in F3 racing as it opened doors into Formula One,'' related Carlos Guimares, the former secretary of the Macau Grand Prix.
Macau also remembers Senna. Along with the car is the racing suit he wore in 1983.
''We found the car last year in England. It was restored and painted and brought back in time for the opening of the museum in November,'' Guimares, who is now curator of the museum, said.
The Brazilian was then driving in the colours of Marlboro-Theodore racing along with teammates Roberto Guerrero and Gerhard Berger.
Senna's appearance in Macau was due to racing-enthusiast and millionaire Teddy Yip. ''Teddy launched the careers of many young drivers and Macau has always been the stepping stone to greater things,'' Guimares said.
Great things were surely in store for Senna, who came to Macau as British Formula Three champion having won a record 12 races that season.
Senna grabbed pole position at Macau with a time of two minutes 22.02 seconds. Then he led from start to finish winning both the 15-lap legs in an overall time of one hour 11 minutes 34.96 seconds to win the prize title.
When he left, there was hardly anyone in doubt that the Brazilian would go onto higher things.
The South China Morning Post of November 21, 1983, headlined his victory: ''Classy Senna just champion'' and went on to say that it was a ''flawless display of high-speed driving''.
Yesterday, the car was a sad reminder of a man who had lived by that description.