Motor racing: Mansell has to learn fast: Toni Toomey reports from Cleveland, Ohio on a testing time for a British Champion

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

EMERSON FITTIPALDI and his young Canadian team-mate, Paul Tracy, dominated the time sheets in the first practice at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport for today's Cleveland 200. Nigel Mansell maintained a solid third position on the temporary circuit that he was driving for the first time.

Mansell, piloting a Ford Cosworth Indy engine, has the horsepower advantage over the Chevrolet Ilmor engines. His rival Fittipaldi, though driving the slightly underpowered Chevy, rides in the Penske cockpit. The Penske chassis, built in Liverpool, has the aerodynamic advantage, allowing more speed with less power.

Acknowledging the superior competition he is up against here in Cleveland, Mansell said: 'I'm not very competitive at the moment. The Penske car is the clear favourite this weekend'.

Saturday morning was Mansell's first time on this circuit, although he still has another practice session before he qualifies for today's race. Tracy ended the first practice session on top.

Normally a driver would be able to go out to inspect the race course on a motor scooter to at least learn which way the turns go. However the race course was an airfield landing strip right up until the track opened so Mansell just had to wing it for the first few laps.

Emerson Fittipaldi has a special motivation to win the pole and the race this weekend since it would be worth dollars 100,000 (pounds ) to him.

Nigel Mansell looked a bit shell-shocked as he stretched out in his motorhome to catch his breath. 'The course is incredibly bumpy, and it's hot,' he said

Mansell said he has never driven on a race course quite like this. 'It's a real education. To go into some corners airborne is a new experience for me. It's hard on the car and it's hard on me,' he said. Mansell admitted he is working hard out there, 'We're just very busy out there wresthng with the car all the way around the circuit.'

There is usually one particular path-racing line around the course that gives the fast times. Every driver has their own variations that they feel makes them quicker. Mansell is known for having very unique lines, but in Cleveland so far he hasn't found it.

'I'm still trying to find the best line,' Mansell said. 'I haven't got any line perfect. Right now the car is just jumping around too much and bottoming out.'

Mansell and his team have taken all the data from the computers in the car and compared that to the way the car felt during practice. 'We're going to change everything on the car - springs, dampers, ride height, camber - trying to optimise the car. We'll change everything except the driver,' Mansell said.

Asked if he perhaps watched some of the airplanes on their approach to get some ideas on racing ones, he said, 'Well maybe on the straight away I should.'