Motor Racing: Mansell gives a master class in self-belief: Richard Edmondson joins the former champion in a spin round Brands Hatch

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The Independent Online
AS HE climbed out of his car in a gravel trap at Jerez on Sunday, it may have been a surprise to many to see no reproachfulness in the demeanour of Nigel Mansell.

Two years away in IndyCar racing, however, have not diluted his confidence and yesterday he confirmed that self-belief was the first item he packed on the way home from America. Yes, he could understand people who called him a 'wally' for his inglorious exit from the Grand Prix of Europe, but no, there was little agreement with those who think of him as a back number at the age of 41.

Pride and ego are raging bonfires within Mansell and he believes he retains the qualities for another world championship. As he opened the Nigel Mansell Racing School at Brands Hatch yesterday, a scheme with the lofty aspiration of providing a future Formula One world champion, there were great words for Britain's most successful motor racing figure. Mansell was referred to in cartoon-strip vernacular as a 'hero', 'master' and outstanding motorsport genius. He did not disagree.

'If I'm motivated and I'm given the opportunity to succeed, and that means winning, I can do it,' he said.

'I'm the winning-most driver in the history of this country. I've moved the goalposts from the 27 wins of Jackie Stewart to 30. I'm a double world champion and I've made the sort of history in the last few years that may never be repeated.'

Mansell's slow start and subsequent collison on Sunday would have daunted a less possessed being. But he had answers. 'I didn't make a good start,' he said. 'It was abysmal. With those Mickey Mouse tyres you let the clutch out and they just light up. When I was last in Formula One we had bigger tyres.

'I had an exciting race for 10 to 15 laps when I overtook Gerhard (Berger) and (Rubens) Barrichello. I felt very comfortable that I could get into third spot and pull away. But my front wing got damaged when Barrichello started weaving a little bit.'

Mansell has raced five times in the last seven weeks, taking in Vancouver, California and Spain, and admits his senses may still be in mid-Atlantic.

'How anybody can do a programme like that if they're not motivated, not fit, or don't want to do the job is beyond words,' he said.

With the grands prix at Suzuka and Adelaide remaining, Mansell anticipates definitive proof for all that his competitiveness remains.

'When I signed up I said I wasn't interested unless I could do consecutive races,' he said. 'I have the experience to know that you can't jump into the stallion of racing cars, and the pinnacle of motorsport, and expect to compete with the best after a two-year absence. But I'm greatly encouraged that I can jump in and be third on the grid, and I know I can go quicker.'

Yesterday's would not have been the most turbulent press conference of Mansell's career; his interrogators had their incisors pulled by the prospect of retribution at the hands of the man in practice laps around Brands Hatch.

The BMW 3 Series saloon he drove around the circuit still had the capacity to scare this passenger at speeds of more than 100mph. The journey was virtual grand prix and actual petrification, with no time for finding either wavebands on the radio or winegums in the glove compartment.

During the drive (and there were almost fluids at Druids), Mansell outlined the benefits of his school and the motoring history of Brands Hatch. It was wasted. The only other sound from the vehicle was the screeching of tyres and a similar, but inaudible, noise in the mind of his companion. 'The tyres should be warm by now,' he said at the end of two laps. They were not alone.

(Photograph omitted)