Motor Racing: Mansell mindful of his mission

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL was quickest in morning practice yesterday here, posting an unofficial best lap a mile an hour faster than his record last year.

Stefan Johansson was second quickest followed by Robby Gordon. Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy and Al Unser Jr were in the top 10 along with Michael Andretti and Adrian Fernandez. Mansell will need to stay on his toes for the rest of the weekend in a field of such proven talent.

One year ago, as Mansell prepared to enter the third event of his first year in the PPG IndyCar World Series, he was entitled to be feeling wary of the 1.59-mile, temporary street circuit for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. But one year on, with the championship under his belt, Mansell has the experience to overcome any anxiety about tomorrow's race here.

A violent crash in Phoenix two weeks before last year's event left him with a painful back injury. But he took pole position with a record speed.

But the Briton, who was still learning the strategies of an IndyCar rolling start, immediately lost the lead to Paul Tracy. And the whole race last year was marred by unpleasantness among the drivers.

The atmosphere yesterday, however, was much more upbeat. Mansell is in much better shape as well.

Mansell recently talked about his motivation. 'After you have won a championship on one side of the ocean and then a championship on the other side of the ocean, you reach a different plateau,' he said.

Mansell goes into the race here fifth in the standings with 19 points, compared with the leader Emerson Fittipaldi's 37. Of Mansell's five wins last year, only two were on road courses. When Mansell says 'I still have a lot to learn', you get the impression he likes it that way.