After a dozen or so laps, having made some set-up changes, Fittipaldi clocked a 49.7s best time before handing over to Senna.
The then-32-year-old, who’d won 36 Grands Prix at that point, as well as the Drivers’ Championship in 1988, 1990 and ’91, took his time to acclimatise to the turbocharged Chevrolet V8-powered car with its stick-shift sequential gearbox.
After making some adjustments of his own, including softening the rear suspension and adding fuel to compare changing car weights, Senna got down to a best of 49.09s – seven-tenths quicker than Fittipaldi. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he impressed everybody who witnessed his fleeting glimpse into life as an Indycar driver, including Fittipaldi, fellow Penske racers Rick Mears and Paul Tracy, team designer Nigel Bennett and, of course, the boss.
Sadly for US racing fans, Senna would return to Formula 1 in 1993, winning five races in the underpowered McLaren-Ford. And, as history has recorded, he never got the chance to make the switch to IndyCar. Senna racing in the Indy 500 really would have been quite something.
In this unique video made recently by Instituto Ayrton Senna, the foundation set up in his name, we hear from Roger Penske himself. ‘The Captain’, one of US racing’s most successful team bosses of the past 40 years, remembers fondly the day Ayrton Senna tried one of his cars. And look out for Penske making a special presentation to the team at the end.