Motor Racing: Mansell's US challenge ends in glorious failure

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The Independent Online
HE COCKED it up, but his failure was a glorious one, earning sympathy even from those who came to mock him. Nigel Mansell, the people's champion, was within 15 minutes of victory in the the world's biggest motor race yesterday when he made the most crucial of the three mistakes that blemished his afternoon. His failure to win the Indianapolis 500 at his first attempt, though, was more appealing than most people's successes.

At 39, Mansell last year turned his back on the Borgia-like infighting of Formula One and opted to remake his career where his home was, in the United States. The Indianapolis 500 is the centrepiece of the US championship season: the longest, fastest, richest, and most widely watched of all motor races, attracting a paying crowd of more than 500,000 to a weekend which is like the Epsom Derby and Tour de France rolled into one.

After a modest start, Mansell began to live up to the hype that followed him here when he joined the team co- owned by the film star Paul Newman. He led the field on three occasions, and in the closing stages seemed set to take the first prize of about dollars 1.5m.

Already, though, he had made his first blunder, overshooting his pit during a routine stop to take on fuel and tyres. Then, crucially, he allowed two other non-American drivers, Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk, to catch him napping after the removal of a broken-down car had slowed the field. Finally, with only eight laps to go, his strenuous efforts to get back on terms led him to swipe the concrete wall bordering the daunting two and a half mile track. 'After that,' he said, 'I was just really happy to finish.' Fittipaldi and Luyendyk finished first and second.

Often derided in Formula One for his lack of social artistry, Mansell humbly took the rap at the post-race press conference: 'Whatever mistakes were made today were made by me.'

Race report, page 28