Motor Racing: Mansell in mood for a street fight: Briton's fitness in doubt

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NIGEL MANSELL and the PPG IndyCar World Series return to street racing here this weekend with the Long Beach Grand Prix. Mansell, still feeling the effects of his car's collision with the wall at Phoenix International Raceway a fortnight ago, will seek to regain the form that saw him win from pole position in his debut in IndyCars, at Surfers Paradise, Australia last month.

Mansell arrived here complaining of soreness in his shoulders and back but he is intent on racing. 'I don't think people appreciate the impact with the wall. It stopped the car dead,' he said. Although Mansell missed the Phoenix race as the result of his accident during practice, his Newman-Haas team still made it two wins from two races in 1993 when Mario Andretti recorded a a popular victory (his 52nd in IndyCars) after the early leaders, Paul Tracey and Emerson Fittipaldi crashed their Penske cars.

The chances of Newman-Haas making it three victories appear to be good. Mansell and Andretti are favourites for tomorrow's race which will be held over 105 laps of a 1.59-mile track in the streets adjacent to downtown Long Beach and across the harbour from the Queen Mary.

Although it is still early in the racing season a couple of significant trends have emerged. First, the Ford- Cosworth engine used by the Newman-Haas, Walker, Ganassi, Simon and Foyt racing teams appears to have a significant edge over the new Chevrolet engines used by the defending champion, Bobby Rahal, and the Galles, Hall/VDS, Bettenhausen and King teams. Only Penske racing has shown the ability to be competitive with the new Chevrolet.

Al Unser Jr a perennial favourite at Long Beach after winning four consecutive races here from 1988 to 1992 with the Galles Racing, says that while the Chevy is a match for the Ford in top speed, there is no contest when it comes to acceleration.

Galles Racing has been further handicapped by switching to a Lola chassis after a disappointing season running its own Galmer chassis in 1992. While the other teams simply took what they learned from the 1992 Lolas and applied it to the new car, it has not been that simple for the Galles team because they did not use the Lola chassis last year.

Thus after facing charges that his drive to the 1992 championship was aided by superior equipment on the Williams-Renault Formula One team, Mansell now finds himself in a similar situation in IndyCar racing where the competition is supposedly more even.