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Nigel Mansell’s classic IndyCar moments – MSR Premium

Submitted by on September 8, 2014

nigel mansell 1994Nigel Mansell’s long-held dream of winning the Formula 1 world championship had been fulfilled.

A dominant year had resulted in the Englishman locking up the title by August, but by September he had revealed he was turning his back on the championship.

Not only would Mansell elect not to defend his F1 title, but he would cross the Atlantic to take up an offer to race in the CART IndyCar Series for Hollywood actor Paul Newman and Carl Haas.

Millions tuned in to see how he would fare. After all, if Mansell was involved, it was bound to be something spectacular.

And spectacular it was, in every possible context of the word.

Here are the defining moments of Mansell’s IndyCar career.

First IndyCar Test

Far more press than usual were lined up alongside the Newman-Haas transporter as their new pilot prepared for his first test with the team at Arizona’s Firebird Raceway.

Then again, it isn’t every day that the reigning Formula 1 world champion makes his IndyCar debut.

Mansell turned 60 laps in a year-old Lola, devoid of the active suspension and traction control systems that enhanced his title-winning Williams.

It didn’t take him long to erode any doubts he would struggle to adapt to a car without driver aids. His fastest time of the day was reported to be 0.8s under the lap record.

First win, on debut – Surfers Paradise 1993

“You couldn’t have written a better script. Have you been getting tips from Paul Newman?” Barry Sheene asked Mansell, who was sitting in a safety truck, his left foot in agony.

It had truly been a fairytale debut, full of Mansell’s signature theatrics.

From pole, Mansell was beaten to the first chicane by both Penskes, falling behind Robby Gordon as well. Cue a Mansell charge. He raced past Gordon, passed Paul Tracy when his rear suspension failed, then nailed Emerson Fittipaldi with a spectacular, brakes-locked move after the final chicane.

Unfortunately, he did the latter under yellow flags. He served his stop-go penalty in conjunction with his first pit stop – CART soon closed that loophole – and was never headed. His only worries were fuel and his left foot, tender after an old karting injury flared up and causing him grief on the clutch pedal.

Mansell’s car started to sputter on the run to the flag but he made it across the line to take a sensational first-up victory in front of a bumper crowd, and the biggest press contingent ever seen at an IndyCar race outside the Indy 500. His fuel tank dry, Mansell made it as far as the second chicane. He was picked up by the safety truck, enjoying the long, slow lap back to the pits, waving to the fans, and soaking in the adulation.

Remarkably, it would be Mansell’s only road course win in the series.

Crash & BurnĀ  – Phoenix 1993

Sure, he was a winner first time out, but that was on one of his favoured road courses. The real litmus test of Mansell’s Stateside-switch came at the Phoenix International Raceway.

Benefitting from his two preseason test sessions at the track, he set the banked one-mile oval alight in opening practice. The Englishman clocked an unofficial track record in his first competitive hit out.

And then he crashed. Hard.

nigel mansell Pheonix 1993

The rear of the Lola got away from him entering Turn 1, a half-spin sending Mansell backwards into the wall at 160mph. The impact sparked a flash-fire and blew a hole in the concrete barrier. The driver fared little better, with Mansell taken to hospital with a back injury and a concussion.

Indianapolis 500, 1993

His Phoenix crash meant Mansell would make his oval debut on the biggest stage of them all. A steady buildup through the Month of May saw Mansell start the race from the middle of the third row and learn his way around in the early stages.

By quarter distance he was driving like an oval veteran. Mansell was unafraid to charge around the outside of cars into the Brickyard’s turns as he moved steadily towards the front of the field.

He took the lead before the half-way mark, but a mistake on pit road dropped Mansell back down the order. A steady charge saw him close back within range of the leaders as the race wound down. With only a handful of laps remaining, Mansell took advantage of lapped traffic on a restart to shoot around the outside of both Andretti and Fittipaldi and not just take the lead but start pulling away.

But a fairy tale rookie win was not to be. The caution flags flew with 18 laps to go and Mansell was jumped by both Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk on the restart. Mansell tried hard to give chase – kissing the wall at one stage and bringing out another yellow – but he would have to settle for third.

Milwaukee 1993

Mansell put into practice the lessons learnt at Indy on the very next weekend.

He started the 200-lap race at the Milwaukee Mile down in seventh, but moved forward as his faster rivals wore out their tyres on the oval’s ageing surface.

Showing no fear of using the high line or any timidness among the ever-present traffic around Milwaukee’s bullring, Mansell used his car’s better handling to be fifth after the first stops.

The retirement of Scott Goodyear and Paul Tracy put Mansell right onto polesitter Raul Boesel’s tail for the run to the flag. He read the traffic to perfection to surge past the Brazilian, holding him off on a late-race restart to claim victory.

Rolling start rage – Detroit 1993

The trouble started at Surfers. Long Beach was worse. By the Indy 500, it was clear that Mansell’s biggest difficulty in his IndyCar transition was leading the field on a rolling start or restart.

At all three races, Mansell led the field to the green flag but was beaten there by a Penske.

By Detroit he’d had enough. A heated drivers’ meeting, followed by an impassioned chat with CART chief steward Wally Dallenbach, was just a precursor to the fireworks of that afternoon.

Once again it was Fittipaldi, not polesitter Mansell, who led the field across the start line as the green flag flew. After much discussion, officials soon handed the Brazilian a stop-go penalty for jumping the start.

Fittipaldi was incensed, but the ruling set a precedent that the polesitter has earnt the right to lead the field across the line, a dictum that stands to this day.

Cleveland 1993

23 years after the pair started alongside each other in Mansell’s F1 debut, he and Fittipaldi came together once again in a thrilling battle.

The wide expanses of the Burke Lakefront Airport’s runways and taxiways gave the pair room to run side by side, wheel to wheel for lap after lap.

No quarter was asked for nor given, the pair putting on an unforgettable exhibition of hard but fair racing.

“Every time I thought I got rid of him, he was back again!” Fittipaldi told reporters after their dice. Mansell was just as effusive. “I think we showed everyone that you can have a hard fight and battle wheel to wheel and still race safe,” he said.

A worldwide hit

Mansell’s arrival had thrust IndyCar into the world spotlight. Everyone wanted to follow the progress of the Formula 1’s world champion as he embarked on a new challenge.

The series’ races were suddenly being broadcast to almost 100 countries. Press galleries swelled to almost F1 levels. A regular show following Mansell through the season hit TV screens, while books and magazines introducing IndyCar’s rich history to the masses hit shelves.

IndyCar had already been expanding its appeal, the all-American series adding Canada and Australia to its schedule in the preceding years. It’s on-track product was already exciting, with young guns like Tracy and Michael Andretti going wheel to wheel with popular veterans Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Fittipaldi.

Mansell’s arrival was the catalyst needed for the series to capitalise on its strengths and tap into an audience of hundreds millions. It sparked a boom in the series that lasted until the turn of the millennium.

New Hampshire 1993

Words struggle to describe the show that Mansell, Fittipaldi and Tracy put on that day at Loudon.

Some hailed it as the best IndyCar oval race ever seen, the two world champions and the young Canadian firebrand chopping and changing throughout the 200-lap distance.

It was Mansell, who turned 40 years old on the day of the race, who won out, finally holding off the Penske pair to take his fourth win of the season.

Mid-Ohio 1993

The title was in sight. Mansell could lock up the IndyCar Series crown with a good result at Mid-Ohio.

But, typical of Mansell, it just couldn’t be that simple.

He qualified on pole but banged wheels with a fast-starting Tracy at the first corner. The contact bent a steering arm, Mansell losing his right front wing, too, while the field rounded him up as he struggled back to the pits.

A timely yellow flag and fast repairs saw him rush out of the pits without losing a lap – except he passed the pace car after the pit exit.

After a penalty and further repairs, Mansell resumed the race three laps down. He charged through to 12th place and one point, but title rival Fittipaldi won the race and closed to within 14 points. The title would have to wait.

Nazareth 1993

It was Mission Impossible. Mansell had to beat Fittipaldi to clinch the crown and hope the Brazilian had a poor run. Nazareth, however, was Penske’s home soil, their cars logging millions of test laps at the Speedway.

When rain washed out practice and qualifying points leader Mansell was handed pole and Penske a crucial advantage. With dry track time limited to the morning warm up, their intimate knowledge of the tricky five-turn oval should have played into their hands. But it didn’t.

Mansell and the Newman-Haas team hit their setup perfectly while both Penskes missed the window. Mansell rushed past first Fittipaldi then Tracy to take the lead, and simply raced away from the field.

With Fittipaldi finishing fifth, Mansell’s dominant victory was enough to clinch the IndyCar Series crown.

Furthermore, with Alain Prost faltering at the Italian Grand Prix, Mansell still reigned as Formula 1 World Champion. For a seven day period, Mansell held both crowns in a feat never achieved before or since.

Feud with Mario
nigel mansell and mario andretti
Not everyone was happy with Mansell’s arrival. At the front of that queue, remarkably, was his own teammate.

Mario felt that Mansell’s arrival and demeanour had divided the harmonious Newman-Haas team which, previous to the Brit’s arrival, had only ever had drivers with the surname ‘Andretti’ on the roster.

Tensions rose between the pair throughout 1993, leading to Andretti’s decision to make 1994 the last full-time season of a storied racing career.

But even the ‘Arrivederci Mario’ tour didn’t go smoothly for the pair. New Hampshire was the low point: Mansell was coming up to lap Andretti, who squeezed him down to the apron. The inevitable contact sent Mario into the wall and Mansell to the pits with damaged suspension.

Surfers Paradise 1994

In his rookie year, Mansell seemingly had the Midas touch. Now the reigning champion, for the first time in his career, everything he touched was turning to custard.

A scintillating pole lap had him almost a second clear of a returning Michael Andretti, with no love lost between them. The pair had strong words back in the pits over the race’s initial aborted wet start.

Mansell jumped clear when the race eventually went green but everything went downhill from there. He fell to third when the field pitted for slicks. He fought his way back to second when the yellows came out again, putting him right on Andretti’s tail.

The fickle weather turned again, sprinkling rain on the Gold Coast streets. As they came down for the restart, on slicks, Mansell gave it a fraction too much welly and looped his Lola. To compound his misery, he stalled it as he tried to flick-spin back the right way. The error cost him a lap.

He spun and stalled again as he tried to charge back through the field, spending the rest of his race embroiled in battles for the minor spots as Andretti went on to win.

Indianapolis 1994

A win was out of Mansell’s reach – Penske’s revolutionary Mercedes motor saw to that – but the Englishman was looking on course to be best of the rest.

Then along came Dennis Vitolo.

The field slowed as caution flags flew for Hideshi Matsuda’s crash at Turn 1, the debris then sending John Paul Jr into the Turn 3 wall with a puncture.

The latter crash forced the pace car to lead the field along the warm-up lane where Mansell, running third in the race, was cruising along in the queue. Unawares, Vitolo arrived on the tail of the queue at high speed. He stomped on the brakes but hit one of John Andretti’s rear wheels launching him up into the air, the red Lola landing on top of the hapless Mansell.

Vitolo took full blame for the crash, while a furious and disbelieving Mansell stormed out of his medical check-up and left the track as soon as he could. His future in the US was already the source of much speculation, and it wouldn’t be long before he found his way back into an F1 car.

Vancouver, 1994

Mansell’s growing frustration with his struggling sophomore season was palpable by the time IndyCar reached Vancouver.

Although the Penskes were dominating, fate seemed to keep dealing Mansell a bad hand whenever he looked set to challenge for victory. A puncture in Toronto; a failed engine at Michigan; an ill-timed caution just after Mansell pitted at Mid-Ohio; now the same had happened again in Vancouver.

From fighting for the lead, Mansell was stuck staring at the rear wing of Fittipaldi’s car as they battled for fourth.

On the final lap, Mansell took a massive dive down the inside of the No.2 Penske at the final corner. Emmo didn’t see him coming and turned in, the inevitable contact ripping corners off both cars and ending their races just a few hundred metres from the finish.

That effectively marked the end of Mansell’s IndyCar career. He raced to an anonymous eighth in the season finale at Laguna Seca, and then he was gone. An exciting and turbulent chapter was over after just two seasons.


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