Motor Racing: Mansell back on track for Ford

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL ran down the steps on the BBC set of "Noel's House Party" and waved to the audience, but there was no gunge or Mr Blobby in sight. It was for real - the former world champion was back in motor racing.

Mansell will drive a Ford Mondeo at three meetings in this season's British Touring Car Championship, which will earn him around pounds 500,000 and doubtless boost the attendances at Donington in June, Brands Hatch in August, and Silverstone in September.

He maintains his role will be to back up Ford's regular drivers, Will Hoy and Craig Baird, but relishes the opportunity to complete a mission he started and was unable to finish five years ago. That venture in touring cars, at Donington, was interrupted by a serious accident which landed him in hospital with battered ribs.

Mansell was characteristically effusive about his new campaign and, although now aged 44, left open the door to a possible full-time programme in the future.

He also took the chance to have a side-swipe at Formula One in general and David Coulthard in particular for perhaps jeopardising his championship prospects by allowing through his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, at the Australian Grand Prix.

He said: "I'm highly motivated and this will get the competitive juices going. I've got some unfinished business to attend to and hopefully this time I will finish.

"I'm here to complement Will and Craig, who are going for the championship, I'm not. But I have an open contract with Ford and I'm ruling nothing out in terms of a full programme in the future, either in this country or America.

"I never retired, I merely had a sabbatical. It wasn't right for me at this stage to do a full season, but the clincher was the chance to race at three historic circuits and hopefully bring the fans along to watch."

While he is content to play the supporting role in the Mondeo, he professed his astonishment that Coulthard surrendered victory, after a first-corner pact, to Hakkinen in Melbourne.

Mansell said: "If the championship was over I would not have a problem with it, but I was confused because it was the first corner of the first race. You don't give away four points unless you have a crystal ball and know you're going to get them back. I hope David doesn't regret it. What happened is not good for the sport.

"I would say David and Mika have an equal chance of winning the championship. The person who is more consistent will win it. McLaren have done an outstanding job.

"The other thing about Formula One now is that there are too many driver aids. Don't get me wrong, Formula One is the pinnacle but there are too many computer-controlled aids. I just think a driver should drive the car and carry it around. The good thing about touring cars is that the driver has a lot of input and the public can relate to the cars."