Motor Racing: Mansell looks back in anger

Click to follow
IT WAS Armed Forces Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday. Flags flew. A band played. Baseball caps came off for the singing of the Stars and Stripes. A quartet of F-16s from Fort Wayne whooshed over the grandstand. Senator Dick Lugar took the oath of allegiance from 50 recruits to the services. And Nigel Mansell had a go at Alain Prost.

Would Nigel rather be in Monaco this weekend? Would Emerson, or Nelson, or Mario? Or any of the 12 drivers with Formula One experience attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500-mile race this weekend?

The Indy 500 is certainly different. For a start, it has more history. Cars have been racing through Casino Square at Monte Carlo since the early 1920s, but they have been circling the two and a half-mile oval of the Brickyard since 1910. But even here, things change. One novelty this year is a sudden infusion of Formula One-style acrimony.

At the moment, Mansell is firing his complaints behind him, in the direction of the world he has left. This may not last. But, having so far found nobody to complain about in America, Mansell followed up a 225mph lap on Friday - the second fastest of the week, just behind his team-mate, Mario Andretti - with a typical burst of venom aimed at Prost. Pointing out that his move to IndyCar racing had cost him about dollars 15m (pounds 9.7m) in earnings, the Florida-based multi-millionaire remarked that 'there are more important things than money', and that one of those things was the ability to behave honourably.

'For 15 years,' Mansell said, talking about Prost's relationship with Renault, 'it had been the French desire to win the world championship with a French driver.' Mansell believes that Renault manoeuvred Prost into the Williams team, precipitating his own departure. 'Prost was controlling it. I don't want to work with anyone who wants to control you. Ayrton (Senna), Prost, (Nelson) Piquet and (Niki) Lauda are great drivers on the track. It's how they operate off the track. I detest shenanigans. It seems that most world championships can be bought. I won 14 races in two years in the world championship and then got blown out of the water again.'

Mansell is still recovering from a heavy crash in Phoenix, Arizona on 3 April, during practice for his first race on an oval track. Surgery on his lower back has left him in pain, but he said that his condition is improving: 'I can get in and out of the car now.'

The complex Indianapolis qualifying procedure takes place over two weekends. Cars circulate singly, attempting to put together four consecutive laps at a average speed that will place them among the 33 starters. There are 45 drivers here, which means that a dozen will be disappointed. Mansell went into the second weekend in the middle of the third row, timed at 220.255mph.

Improvements to the track for this year's 77th running of the race include the removal of the 'aprons' on the inside of turns one and three, which previously allowed drivers to drop down from the normal line and scrub off extra speed without lifting their foot from the accelerator.

'Last year I ran six laps at just under 230mph without lifting my foot,' said Eddie Cheever, the 35-year-old American who spent 10 years in Formula One before moving to IndyCars in the mid-1980s. 'You'd go into the corners with no margin for error whatsoever. It was just too fast, and it's safer this way.'

Opinions vary. Jim Crawford, a 45-year-old Englishman who made his IndyCar debut in 1984, thinks that the narrowing of the track will present its own problems. 'We'll see whether it's safer or not when the race starts,' he said yesterday, sitting on the pit wall while waiting to qualify his Lola-Chevrolet. 'What I'm worried about is how you're going to overtake people. I suppose we'll figure a way out.'

Qualifying times, Sport in Short, page 29