MOTOR RACING: Mansell in old routine

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NIGEL MANSELL returned to the British racing track with a characteristically mercurial performance here yesterday.

The former world champion, competing on home ground for the first time since a huge accident on this very circuit, five years ago, crashed on only the fourth lap of the day's first British Touring Car Championship race.

However, he stuck to the script of a lifetime to treat a drenched 25,000 crowd to a scintillating drive in the second race, amazingly steering his Ford Mondeo through the mayhem from 19th place on the grid to first, before having to settle for an honourable fourth. Not that that was the end of it. Audi protested he had overtaken their driver Yvan Muller behind the safety car and the stewards duly relegated the Englishman to fifth.

Mansell's team had to work frantically to repair his car after the earlier incident. The Mondeo had careered straight on and into a tyre barrier at about 60 miles an hour.

He said: "I turned to the right but nothing happened. It just kept going straight on and accelerated. It was quite an interesting experience to sit and wait for the impact. I don't know why I went straight on."

Mansell's problems in the sprint race started immediately. Lining up third on the wet grid, he was muscled out of the way by John Cleland's Vauxhall, was swallowed up by the pack, and by the first corner was down to eighth.

"I didn't realise they all jumped the start," he said. "I kept too much to the right and a certain red car pushed me on the grass."

He managed to hold that position for three laps and seemed comfortable until he approached the notorious double apex at Coppice. He turned to the right but nothing happened and was resigned to his fate. Ford engineers said a locking front wheel probably caused the Mondeo to go straight on.

Nissan's Anthony Reid won the race, with Rickard Rydell, of Volvo, second and Will Hoy, in the other Mondeo, third.

Mansell, starting the second feature race, three from the back of the grid, was more prudent in the early stages this time but gradually gained confidence and momentum. As the rain fell heavily and others tumbled by the wayside, Mansell profited and remarkably graduated to the front of the field.

Cleland attacked but it seemed Mansell had the measure of him and the crowd sensed another landmark in his extraordinary career.

Six laps from the end, however, Mansell's inexperience in this field again betrayed him. He tried to hold a tight line into the hairpin only to be forced wide and Cleland duly accepted the open invitation.

Undismayed, Mansell said: "I've never had so many shunts in a race in all my career. I'm delighted with the way things have gone, especially after the first race."