Ah, the Acura (Honda) NSX. It’s as legendary as legends come, at least in the automotive world. This is one of those cars where its legacy, its impact, can almost outweigh how good the car actually is depending on who you’re talking to. Honda built an amazing mid-engined sports car in the ’90s, and we’re still talking about how good it is today. Another thing I always hear about the NSX, whether in the first breath or second sentence, is something about Formula One legend Ayrton Senna.
Senna is one of the great racing drivers of all time, a three-time F1 champion, and arguably the fastest qualifier of all time. He raced for ten years in F1 from 1984 to 1994 when his tragic death at Imola circuit in Italy ended a career and a life with decades of momentum left. He was revered, a very spiritual man himself, and mysterious in his decision-making and dichotomous personality.
He also drove an NSX-R around Suzuka Circuit in Japan once.
The man Senna almost matches the myth around the NSX perfectly. The NSX is a car that is also revered, almost spiritually, with men like Gordon Murray (another racing genius generally credited with creating the McLaren F1) using the NSX as an inspiration for his own sports car. The engineering of the NSX was uncompromising and made a reliable, accessible everyday supercar that simply didn’t exist in the ’90s.
Honda built a focused variant of the NSX called the NSX-R, which is the car Senna is reported to have helped develop. I say reported lightly because it’s basically hearsay: I don’t think it makes sense to credit “development of the vehicle” to Senna while he drove the car, but
Important Correction: We originally stated “there was no evidence Senna drove the car more than once” here which was a bad execution of hyperbole — the point attempting to be made was that lore of Ayrton Senna being a mastermind behind the car’s development is exaggerated; that the car’s creation was actually the result of an engineering team.
That day at Suzuka is the only recorded proof that Senna drove the NSX-R, though there are many anecdotes that say he helped fine-tune the suspension and said the original NSX was “fragile.” There is a video of him driving a standard NSX in 1992 which supports the “fragile” anecdote, however. Sadly, since the man is dead, we can never confirm these things, so they remain a mystery and add to the legend of the car.
Still, that single video of him driving the car is significant and also gangster as fuck. He hopped into this NSX-R in loafers, did a burnout in the pitlane, and proceeded to absolutely hammer around Suzuka. It’s the only known recording of Senna’s perplexing footwork, his stabbing throttle technique, and watching how it relates to his transcendent understanding of weight shift and car control.
Much as I love the legend of the NSX, I still tire of hearing about Senna developing the car. He didn’t! And that is OK.
Correction 09/02/21: See above. The statement “there is no evidence Senna drove the car more than once” was inaccurate; even if you just count promotional shots, he did of course drive NSXs on more than one occasion.