Classic cars

"More crashes mean more entertainment. Yet protection for the Indycar is every bit as good as in Formula One"

There is, of course, a huge gulf between the Jaguar D-type and today's racing cars. And if you note what Formula One's high-ups say, you would get the impression that there is an equally huge difference between Formula One and Indycar racing. They regard it as technically inferior, less glamorous, less sophisticated, less professional than their own events.

They are right. Which is why American Indycar racing is so much better to watch than Formula One.

The likely enforced retirement of Nigel Mansell highlights one of the sport's alarming weaknesses of Formula One - and blindingly obvious to everybody except the organisers). Mansell may be the boorish, whingeing, unsophisticate off the track that his detractors claim. But he has served up more entertainment on the track than all his educated, disciplined, isotonically nourished robo-rivals put together. Which is how he made Formula One appeal to scores of sports-mad people who had never really bothered with motor racing before.

The Indycar organisers have a clear priority: to entertain spectators and television audiences. Meanwhile, Formula One still does not know whether it wants to be science or sport. At the moment, it is more the former, which is one reason why it makes such poor viewing every other Sunday.

When Murray Walker enthuses (oh, the passion that man has!) about the second-best driver in Formula One (Damon Hill) passing the best (Michael Schumacher) for the first time ever on the track - which happened at the recent Argentine Grand Prix - you realise how bad things are.

In Indycars, as in so much else in America, the customer is king. On the oval tracks, there are no run-off areas, so the spectators get closer to the racing. The concrete walls in Indycar racing mean more crashes, because mistakes are punished not by wheels on the grass or over kerbs, but by wheels hitting concrete.

More crashes usually mean more entertainment. Yet protection for the Indycar drivers and spectators - we are talking about litigation-mad America - is every bit as good as in Formula One.

Whenever there is a crash in Indycars, yellow flags come out. The whole field then bunches behind the leader. It is not fair, but that is not the point. It makes for a better spectacle because it makes for closer racing.

There is a pleasing normality about the top Indycar drivers. I asked Al Unser Jr, last year's Indianapolis 500 winner, what his training routine had been over the past winter. "Lots of TV and the odd smoke," was his answer.

He drove to the race in his own mobile home, transporting his wife and family, plus some friends. Unser is famous in America, rich and undeniably one of the world's finest drivers. Yet he also has time for fans and the press.

Compare him with most Formula One "stars", who fly themselves to races because their time is so precious (whereas, in fact, it is they who are so precious), and you can see why the Indianapolis 500 attracts 500,000 spectators, while many Grands Prix play to half-empty houses.

As Mansell proved, spectators like to cheer men who want to entertain them, not automatons who ruthlessly want to win.

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