Imola remembers Senna 20 years after fatal crash

Thu Apr 24, 2014 8:54pm EDT
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By Isla Binnie

IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) - Twenty years after Ayrton Senna died at Imola's race track, the town is gearing up to honor a Formula One driver it remembers as much for his charity and charisma as his three world championship wins.

Memories of the great Brazilian are still clear in the minds of many in the northern Italian town where five days of events to commemorate the anniversary begin on April 30.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. I cried for a week," said bar owner Gianni Mezzetti, 56, founder of the Barrichello Fans Club named after Senna's compatriot and former Ferrari driver Rubens.

Mezzetti and other Imola residents recalled how Senna visited a young fan paralyzed in an accident every time he came to the town, and the owner of the hotel where he stayed said he always gave race tickets to staff.

The May 1 death of Senna, the last driver killed during a Formula One race, and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger the day before sent shockwaves through the motor racing world and led to sweeping changes to safety regulations.

A devout Catholic, who took solace from the Bible and donated significant sums to helping the under-privileged in his homeland during his career, Senna was nonetheless a fierce competitor and outspoken critic of his rivals.

Spats with other drivers, and notably team mate and rival Alain Prost, were well publicized during his life and in the 2010 documentary 'Senna' by Asif Kapadia which will be shown during the celebrations.

In Imola, whose circuit is named after the late Ferrari founder Enzo and his son Dino, they prefer to remember the champion for his humility rather than for any track controversies.   Continued...

Handwritten notes left by fans are pictured on a fence at the site where Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna died at the race track in Imola April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo