AFTER driving fewer than 20 laps in rookie practice on the high-speed banked oval at Michigan International Speedway yesterday, Nigel Mansell went out during the first proper practice session and annihilated the track record with a time of 31.153sec, over 230mph. The Briton's Newman-Haas team-mate, Mario Andretti, had held the old mark of 31.282sec.
Andretti and Nigel Mansell swapped spots on the time sheets during the final practice yesterday, but no more records were broken and Mansell stayed on top.
The Michigan track is a difficult, bumpy surface and Mansell said of it: 'You get off line to overtake someone and you almost jump through the air. It's no problem running wheel to wheel at 220 or 230 (mph) where it's smooth, but it's difficult when you get out of the groove.'
Bumps notwithstanding, Mansell is happy with the set-up on the car. 'I want the car tomorrow just like it is today. The crew is back in the garage measuring everything so that they can keep it that way,' he said.
Significant changes from road-course settings are required for an IndyCar chassis to run on a superspeedway. 'I find this track much more physically demanding than Indianapolis,' Mansell said.
The left suspension arms are shorter than the outside arms. The brakes, which are not used as much, are lighter. A narrower, higher range of gears are installed for the sustained higher speeds along with a lower steering ratio for less response in the banked turns.
And then there is the sound. At 13,000 revs the 800 bhp of the exhaust note reflects off the track from the 18-degree bank of the front straight, bouncing off the grandstands into the pits. Awesome.
MARLBORO 500 (Michigan) Leading practice times: 1 N Mansell (GB) Lola-Ford Cosworth 31.207sec (230.716mph); 2 M Andretti (Bra) Lola-Ford Cosworth 31.276; 3 R Boesel (Bra) Lola-Ford Cosworth 31.647; 4 A Luyendyk (Neth) Lola-Ford Cosworth 31.907; 5 Andretti Lola-Ford Cosworth (second car) 31.932; 6 P Tracy (Can) Penske-Chevrolet C 32.117.