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My life in cars: Bruno Senna
The Brazilian racing driver spills the beans on the cars he's loved, lost and crashed
I started driving when I was four years old, in these little buggies with two-stroke engines, no gears and an inertia clutch. When I was five, I started driving go-karts. The first road-legal car that I drove, when I was seven, was an Opel Monza. It was manual, I couldn’t see much, but luckily my grandfather was next to me. After that, I drove the beach buggy we had on the farm, which was kind of my parents, considering I was seven. I learned to drive a truck, an actual Ford F-4000 truck, when I was about 10. I wasn’t driving any of them particularly fast, but in the go-karts I was doing pretty well. That’s when we started to plan my racing career.
I had already passed my theory test, so on the day of my 18th birthday I took the practical test and almost failed for indicating too late. The first car I had was an Audi S3. It was a quick car, but in Brazil we had to bulletproof it because the risks of gun crime and getting mugged are high. The whole car was armoured, the glass, the doors, the engine bulkhead, the boot. Back then, an armouring of that level added about 230kg; now the technology is much better – the glass is much thinner for the same ballistic level – so the penalty is down to 180kg.
Anyway, I crashed the S3, unsurprisingly. It wasn’t totalled, but the damage was enough for the insurance company to write it off. So, I got another S3, and this time I convinced my family not to armour it, but had to sell it when I moved to Europe for my racing career. When I arrived there, I bought a VW Golf R32, V6; it was really nice but I kind of missed the turbo on the S3. However, the insurance was ridiculously expensive, probably because I was only 20 at the time.
I sold that after a couple of years and bought a BMW 335i estate. I seriously loved that car – I needed it for my mother and my sister… they carry a lot of luggage when they travel. It was probably one of the only manual 335i estates in the UK; that’s why I lost lots of money when I sold it in a hurry. But no regrets.
Then I moved to Monaco and I had a Porsche 997 GT2 RS for a while. It was a friend’s car and he wanted to leave it in Monaco. I didn’t drive it much because I’d just started in F1 and was travelling all the time, but it was a cool car, quite scary – the turbo lag was pretty aggressive. It didn’t like Monaco much, though, because there’s loads of first-gear hills. So, before I returned it, I decided to replace the clutch, which was so expensive, but, hey, he left it with me for a year so it was nice to return it in good shape.
Then, you’d be surprised what I got. I’ve always been a big fan of hot hatches, so I was looking for something that was small, light, tunable and with a sequential gearbox. I bought a VW Polo GTI – my aim was to get 300bhp out of it, a suspension kit, better brakes. But I quickly discovered VW made that engine so it was pretty much untunable. It was a 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged with 180bhp, but you could only get 210bhp without really stripping the engine down.
In the end, I didn’t even bother starting on the project. I sold it and bought a BMW 340i saloon; it’s been over two years now and I’ve still got it. I love that car – it’s my daily driver. I didn’t go for the M3, because the difference in price is huge, but the difference is performance is not that huge. The M3 looks nicer, it has a bigger engine, but really you can easily tune the 340i to M3 power levels.
I currently own two cars, the BMW and the McLaren 675LT Spider I got at the end of 2016. I drive it quite a lot – I’ve got 6,000km on it already. I’ve also got a McLaren Senna on the way, around September/October time, hopefully October for my birthday. It’s such a proud moment to finally get the Senna name on a supercar, so the whole family is happy, and I’m even happier that I can buy one for myself. I’ve gone for the exposed carbon-fibre car that was shown at Geneva, which is kind of bittersweet. The plan was for me to take it to the track a lot and enjoy it, but given the finish I’m not sure that’s what I want to do – any blemishes will be there forever. I’m going to keep this one in good shape.