Motor Racing: Americans man the barricades to keep Mansell: IndyCar ready to repel Formula One moves to reclaim brilliant Briton

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The Independent Online
INDYCAR racing is ready to stiffen its resistance if, and almost inevitably when, Formula One makes a serious attempt to lure Nigel Mansell back to the European-based championship.

Mansell's IndyCar debut here on Australia's Gold Coast reduced the the resort race's annual losses by pounds 1m and boosted worldwide television coverage by 50 per cent. His victory should generate further business at individual circuits and on a global scale.

All of which will have been gauged by anxious Formula One leaders, who are only too aware that the exposure has given IndyCars the opportunity to demonstrate the open competition it prides itself in. Mansell is instantly the main attraction and no one on this circuit will be shy about presenting him as such.

IndyCar racing in general and the Newman-Haas team in particular are intent on making him a long-term fixture. Carl Haas, who, along with the film actor, Paul Newman, co-owns this now star-studded team, said: 'We didn't go into this with Nigel viewing it as a one-year situation, that really wouldn't work for us. We hope he's going to be around for quite a while.

'Nigel is a great talent and also a very intelligent racer. He doesn't get flustered. When he got left at the start in Sunday's race he told us on the radio it was OK, he was just having a cup of tea.

'He is a charger but showed he is also a strategist. He had to be to win here. He's very dedicated to his racing and into it from all aspects. I have to rate him one of the best.'

It is understood Mansell has an option to stay on next season, though he is unwilling to make a commitment at this stage. Ferrari were said to have made Haas an offer he could not refuse to release Mansell this year but the Briton declined to move.

The Italians are bound to be back, especially if they fail to entice Ayrton Senna. Should the Brazilian join Ferrari for 1994, McLaren may turn to Mansell and perhaps offer Michael Andretti the chance to go home.

For the moment Mansell is content, throwing himself into his new environment with unrestrained enthusiasm. On the track he has already given a glimpse of his pace and aggression, off it he is the perfect, smiling ambassador, signing autographs, shaking hands and, yes, kissing babies.

His banter with Emerson Fittipaldi, a charming Brazilian with the one- liners to match Mansell's quips, is already a popular feature of IndyCar press conferences. It was never quite like this with Senna.

It is difficult to imagine there will not be strains on the camaraderie and young chargers like young Robbie Gordon have made it obvious that Mansell is a wanted man. The not so young, especially Mario Andretti, driver of the other Newman-Haas Lola-Ford, might grow a little weary of continued success and adulation for the Formula One champion.

Some will doubtless hope Mansell comes unstuck at Phoenix, on Sunday week, when he has his introduction to oval racing. He confesses to some apprehension and says he has much to learn, but inside the team they are confident he will quickly adapt.

Haas, who permanently bites on a huge cigar yet never lights it, said: 'My engineer, Peter Gibbons, thinks in some ways Nigel will be more used to the type of challenge at Phoenix. The circuit there does not have a lot of particularly demanding corners and doesn't call on his normal skills. Peter's very optimistic.

'I just don't know. He's not been there in a traffic situation, but he went well in testing there and if he hadn't I'd have said he had a long learning curve. He's not overly concerned and neither are we.'

Veterans and 'failed' Formula One drivers have long found solace in IndyCar racing, but Mansell's impact could focus interest on bigger fish. Senna has tested in America and indicated a possible future involvement.

Haas said: 'I'm not sure how many could afford Senna. I hope no one else buys a driver from Formula One. I'd be very happy if Nigel was the only one.'