Motor Racing: Mansell is undone by error in disrupted start to season: Andretti gives Reynard historic Indy debut win

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, at home in an IndyCar after his embarrassing experiment in Formula One, won a bizarre opening race of the season yesterday, earning his British-designed Reynard the distinction of being the first time a chassis has won on its IndyCar debut.

Nigel Mansell's defence of the IndyCar title could hardly have got off to a worse opening. After starting from a pole position earned in lap record time, he fell victim to the trying circumstances in which the race was run over 153 miles on the streets of this resort and finished ninth.

The event suffered a record delay for a street race of two and a half hours, was disrupted by rain and then became the first in Indy history to be brought to an end by darkness.

'What a crazy race]' Mansell said. 'Stopping, starting, stopping, starting. The fans and promoters deserved a better race. But nobody can control the weather.'

Mansell led the start on a dry surface, but by the time he had reached the back straight of the 2.8-mile temporary course a brief tropical storm had struck. A wet race was declared, the cars were called in for rain tyres and to top up with fuel. After a one- hour delay the race was restarted, but a five-car pile-up immediately brought out another red flag, sending everyone back to the pits.

After a second one-hour delay the race was started again. Andretti claimed the lead from Mansell on the first lap just before another multi-car shunt brought out the pace car for a lengthy period.

Unfortunately for those who hoped to see a wheel-to-wheel contest between Mansell and Andretti, a miscue on the restart left Mansell's Red Five in fourth position behind Robby Gordon. Mansell laid back for a few laps taking Gordon's measure and planning his move. Then in one lap he caught Gordon, passed him and took on Emerson Fittipaldi. He passed the Brazilian, positioning himself for a duel with Andretti just before another big shunt slowed the race for another lengthy spell.

The hoped for battle of the titans evaporated as the cars came round on to the front straight for the restart. Mansell spun harmlessly on the wet track. 'It was driver error,' Mansell said. 'I was tight in the corner and it just got away from me.'

Andretti's performance was typical of his Indy form, at least - aggressive and flawless. It was a popular win with Mario Andretti coming third behind Fittipaldi to join his son on the podium.

It may have been the first IndyCar debut victory for a chassis but winning the maiden appearance is old hat for Reynard. This British firm won its first races in Formula Ford 2000, Formula Three and Formula 3000. None the less, Malcolm Oastler and the engineers who developed the chassis were ecstatic over the win, while Adrian Reynard, visibly moved, asked no one in particular: 'How do we keep doing this?'

AUSTRALIAN INDYCAR GRAND PRIX (Surfers Paradise): 1 Michael Andretti (US) Reynard-Ford, 55 laps, 153.725 miles, in 1hr 53min 52.770sec; 2 E Fittipaldi (Bra) Penske-Ilmor 1.326sec behind; 3 Mario Andretti (US) Lola-Ford +7.879sec; 4 J Vasser (US) Reynard-Ford +41.807; 5 S Johansson (Swe) Penske- Ilmor +1:08.447; 6 M Gugelmin (Bra) Reynard-Ford +1:29.558; 7 T Fabi (It) Reynard-Ilmor 1 lap behind; 8 M Groff (US) Lola-Honda +1 lap; 9 N Mansell (GB) Lola-Ford +1; 10 S Goodyear (Can) Lola-Ford +2.