Ayrton Senna (left) and then 16-year-old Tony Kanaan after the latter won a go-kart race at Senna's farm in Brazil. (Photo courtesy Tony Kanaan)

An unlikely yet inspiring friendship: Ayrton Senna and Tony Kanaan


Formula One great Ayrton Senna died 20 years ago on May 4, 1994.

Tony Kanaan is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner.

Other than being two very competitive open-wheel race cars, and both being from Brazil, you’d think there would be very little between the two drivers.

But in a very touching story by Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Lawrence, Senna was one of the most significant influences in Kanaan’s development.

The two first met in 1991, three years before Senna was killed in a crash in the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. The setting was on the Senna family farm near Sao Paulo and the event was an impromptu go-kart race between Senna, then 31, fellow drivers and friends and the then-16 year old Kanaan, who was invited because of his status as an up-and-coming kart racer in their native country.

As fate would have it, Kanaan earned the pole for the race. But Senna invoked “my house, my rules,” much to Kanaan’s dismay.

“Right before the start, (Senna) inverted the grid,” Kanaan told Lawrence. “(Senna) put me dead last and started right beside me. We drove through the field, and I won the race.

“He’s like, ‘Man, you’re really talented.'”

Senna would become both mentor and friend to his young fellow countryman.

“Good luck,” Senna once told Kanaan. “And if you ever need anything from me, apart from money, let me know.”

To which Kanaan recalled to Lawrence, “First of all, it’s the biggest thing in life for any kid, right? Meeting your hero. But for me, it was overwhelming. He not only wants to help me out, he gives me his (phone) number!”

At a race in 1994, just months before Senna’s tragic death, Kanaan was in the midst of a four-race tryout with a team that he was hoping would eventually turn into a full-time ride.

Without prompting and completely unexpectedly, Senna went to visit Kanaan in his trailer. Needless to say, Kanaan’s team was stunned that the F1 god would grace them with his presence.

“Senna introduces himself around, like he needed an introduction,” Kanaan recalled to Lawrence. “Everybody’s really nervous because he’s ‘The Guy.’ Eventually (Senna) turns to the owner and he says, ‘You know this kid?’ and he pointed at me? ‘He’s better than me. He beat me in a go-kart race, at my track.’ And then he left. After that, I got a full time job with the team.”

Senna was at Imola on the day Senna crashed and accompanied the body back to their native Brazil.

“I was really fortunate to have the time that I had with him,” Kanaan said.

Whether or not you’re a Senna or Kanaan fan, you owe it to yourself to read Lawrence’s excellent story.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Here are your Russian Grand Prix air times on NBCSN, Live Extra

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The Russian Grand Prix airs this weekend on NBCSN, marking the second time for Formula 1 to hit the streets of Sochi after its debut at the new track last year.

Here’s your TV times breakdown:


Formula One returns to Sochi for its second race in Russia in as many years, following the first running of the Russian Grand Prix in a century last year. Mercedes enjoyed success at last year’s Russian GP, as Lewis Hamilton led Mercedes to a 1-2 finish and the team clinched its first-ever constructors’ championship. Mercedes is on the brink of winning its second straight constructors’ championship, and needs to outscore Ferrari by just three points this weekend in Sochi to secure the title.

Hamilton dominated the most recent race on the F1 calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix on Sept. 27, as he led all 53 laps to claim his eighth win of the 2015 campaign. Hamilton leads teammate Nico Rosberg by 48 points with just five races remaining in the season.

Live coverage from the Sochi Autodrom begins Friday morning with Practice 1 at 3 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra, followed by Practice 2 at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN. Live Extra will stream Practice 3 on Saturday at 5 a.m. ET, prior to live qualifying at 8 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Live Russian Grand Prix coverage begins Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN, followed by F1 Extra at 9 a.m. ET. NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the Russian Grand Prix at noon ET on Sunday.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Russian Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driverDavid Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from the Sochi Autodrom. Alex Jacques will call the GP2 race in Sochi airing Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

F1 Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., October 9 F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 1 3 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 2 7 a.m. NBCSN
/DRIVE on NBC Sports 8:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., October 10 F1 Russian Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Russia Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. NBCSN
Sun., October 11 F1 Russian Grand Prix 6:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 9 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Russia Grand Prix (Encore) 12 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Russia* 10:30 p.m. NBCSN

Rosberg: F1 title race is not over yet

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on September 27, 2015 in Suzuka, Japan.
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Nico Rosberg is refusing to back down in the fight for the 2015 Formula 1 drivers’ championship despite trailing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by 48 points with five races remaining.

F1 arrives in Sochi this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix, and Rosberg knows that failing to score any points would leave Hamilton just one victory away from a third world title.

Rosberg has failed to put up the same kind of fight to his teammate this year as he did in 2014 when the championship was only decided at the final race in Abu Dhabi.

However, he is refusing to back down and write off his title hopes yet, despite not having won a race since June.

“Once I got back from Japan, I was able to focus on the positive elements from my weekend in Suzuka: pole position, the on-track pass on [Valtteri] Bottas and then having the speed to undercut [Sebastian] Vettel’s Ferrari at the second pit-stop,” Rosberg said, reflecting on his fightback to second place at Suzuka two weeks ago.

“I’m not backing down in my fight for the championship and gaining those positions back fair and square showed that. We have five races to go and, although the championship gap to Lewis is quite big, in my mind it’s definitely not over yet.

“The way the whole team has performed this year – from the factories to the garage – has been just incredible and I have the car I need to get back to the top step.”

Sochi was the site of Mercedes’ first constructors’ championship victory in 2014, and Rosberg is hoping to aid its bid to clinch a second title on Sunday.

“I really enjoyed our first trip to Russia last year and it was an awesome weekend for the team – one that I will always remember after seeing all the hard work they’ve put in during my time here,” Rosberg said.

“So, I’m aiming to put all those tools they’ve given me to good use and bring home a top result.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra this weekend.