Motor Racing: Mansell on hold after injuring wrist in staircase fall: Toni Toomey reports from Cleveland, Ohio, on a champion's bizzare accident

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL'S participation in today's Cleveland 200 IndyCar race was on ice after he injured his wrist in a freak accident after the final qualifying session.

Mansell, who coped admirably with a brutally bumpy, temporary circuit at Burke's Lakefront Airport to clock the second fastest qualifying time yesterday, failed to negotiate a wobbly staircase drawn up to the portable press centre. He lost his footing at the top, slipped into a gap between the stairs and the doorstep and plunged headlong into the room.

He fell on his hands, hurting his wrist, which was wrapped in a towel before he headed to the CART IndyCar medical centre, where x-rays showed no break, but swelling suggested a sprain. The doctors there, who had treated him at Phoenix after his accident earlier in the season, advised him to keep ice on the wrist overnight and return to seek clearance to drive before the race.

'I can't believe this has happened,' Mansell said. 'I think it's the first time I've ever head- butted a press room.'

His accident followed a superb performance on the track where he was one of three drivers to beat the previous record for the circuit despite the difficult conditions. Mansell, driving a Lola-Ford for the Newman-Haas team, had the added disadvantage of being outstripped for performance by his main rivals. Their Chevy-Ilmor engines have slightly less power, but the Penske chassis, built in Liverpool, has the aerodynamic advantage, allowing more speed with less power.

Paul Tracy, of Canada, stole his second pole position of the season and the third of his career, lapping les than a quarter of a second quicker than Mansell.

As the temperatures dropped during the unusually late afternoon qualifying session, lap times plummetted and the track record fell. Within the first five minutes of the qualifying session the pole traded hands no fewer than three times between Mansell, Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian lowering the track record into the bargain. But Tracy quickly snatched both honors.

Mansell struggled just short of the magic numbers for a time. Then with 12 minutes left he joined the record-breakers, moving ahead of Fittipaldi but staying just short of Tracy's lap speed of 144.139mph. Mansell said he had never driven on a race course quite like this. 'It's a real education. To go into some corners airborne is a new experience for me. It's hard on the car and it's hard on me,' he said.

Only half a second covered the top three, but then there was a gap of a second back to the fourth- placed Stefan Johannsson, of Sweden.

CLEVELAND 200 Leading qualifying times: 1 P Tracy (US) 59.168sec (144.139mph ave); 2 N Mansell (GB) 59.403 (143.569); 3 E Fittipaldi (Bra) 59.609 (143.072); S Johansson (Swe) 60.409 (141.178; 5 S Goodyear (US) 60.487 (140.996); 6 D Sullivan (US) 60.527 (140.902; 7 A Unser Jr (US) 60.531 (140.893); 8 M Smith (US) 60.627 (140.670); 9 T Fabi (It) 60.634 (140.654); 10 B Rahal (US) 60.644 (140.631).