Motor Racing: Briton sticks to short-term planning: Mike Rowbottom on Nigel Mansell's plan to concentrate on America

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NIGEL MANSELL, not best known for circumspection, nevertheless steered a prudent route yesterday through a jam of questions about his possible return to Formula One racing.

The former Formula One world champion, speaking via satellite during a break in preparations for tomorrow's Indianapolis 500 race, would neither confirm nor deny that he might fill the place in the Williams team left by the death of Ayrton Senna.

'I have a treble-hitter coming up with this race followed immediately by one in Milwaukee and one in Detroit,' he said. 'It is only after that that I will focus on what I want to do in the immediate and long-term. I hope it will be understood that I will spend no time thinking, still less talking, about Formula One.'

He was more forthcoming about his immediate challenge - one which proved marginally too great for him last year when he won the IndyCar title at his first attempt.

'I don't think it will easier second time around,' he said. 'In many ways it will be tougher, because there was parity between the teams last year and this year the Penske team have far more of an advantage.

'You have to congratulate them. They have been very clever in keeping their new engine a secret. No other team can match them at the moment. It will be a case of going away and deciding whether to put millions of dollars into research to see what can be done. Penske go into this race with, I would estimate, 200 horsepower more than any other team. There is nothing we can do about it. We must just do a solid job and hope they will make a few slips.'

The slip which Mansell made last year when a late restart saw him drop from first to eventual third position, is one he feels is unlikely to reoccur.

''Straight after last year's race the Milwaukee event was yellow- flagged when I was leading with three laps to go. I won the race. So I think I got that sorted out straight away.'

Mansell's case for avoiding distracting speculation became stronger when he outlined what will be involved for the drivers tomorrow - 200 laps at average speeds of 220 mph, reaching more than 240 mph in the straights. As Mansell's racing partner for Newman-Haas, Mario Andretti, has said: at speeds like that you are not talking about reaction but anticipation.

'You have got to have a clear mind,' Mansell said. 'It is not like Formula One, where you are braking down to 60 on some corners, here you go into every turn at more than 200 mph. If you allow anybody or anything to disturb your mental concentration you are putting yourself in jeopardy. You can get bitten real hard.'

Offered the hypothetical choice of another Formula One world championship or a first Indy 500 victory, Mansell ventured: 'I would probably say that first of all I would like to win at Indianapolis. It is a special, special race.'

From a position of seventh on the grid with the Penske cars of Al Unser Jr and Emerson Fittipaldi first and third respectively, Mansell is not talking up his chances. If he is to gain and adavantage from any 'slip' let us hope it is not a serious one.

(Photograph omitted)