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Motor Racing: Mansell checked: Unser Jr fastest

AS THE first round of qualifying ended at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday, Nigel Mansell had held on to the No 7 grid position while Al Unser Jr kept pole for the 77th running of the Indianapolis 500. Warm, humid air and a fickle wind robbed Emerson Fittipaldi of glory. Fighting a loss of downforce, Fittipaldi was forced to lift in the corners, dropping revs and bringing out the Achilles heel of the Ilmor- Mercedes engine.

In a business where prudent observers do not place bets, the odds favoured Fittipaldi over Unser for pole but as the track opened yesterday for practice, forecasters were predicting rain all day. The track was dried out just in time to open for practice, however, and though the weather did not delay the session it certainly affected the outcome.

Fittipaldi's fellow Brazilian, Raul Boesel, running the same equipment as Mansell, retained the middle spot on the front row. Paul Tracy, driving the third Penske-Mercedes, missed the first day of qualifying and had to settle for a position in the middle of the grid.

Jacques Villeneuve, the rookie driver, will lead off the second row in a Reynard chassis making its first appearance at Indianapolis. The Reynard of Michael Andretti will start in the middle of the second row with Lyn St James on the outside representing the highest starting position for a woman in the history of the 500. Mansell and his Newman-Haas team- mate, Mario Andretti, will lead off the third row.

Grid positions, Sporting Digest, page 29