Mansell had taken to oval track racing like the proverbial duck to water, lapping within a half second of the lap record at Phoenix in his first 100 miles on the track in early January. In practice on Saturday morning he had broken the lap record and set the fastest time at an average speed of 173.414 mph.
But the slightest misjudgement is magnified a thousandfold at 170 mph, especially when a nine-inch thick concrete retaining wall rather than a sandpit lines the outside of the racetrack. When Mansell drove into Turn One that slightest bit faster, that slightest bit higher, his fate was sealed.
'The back went away, and I said to myself no way; there's no way I can get it back,' Mansell said. 'So I ducked down. The next thing I remember is waking in the helicopter. It must have been a long time, because the helicopter was landing.'
Mansell is not the first and he will not be the last to hit the wall at Phoenix. Last week the 1990 Indianapolis 500 winner, Arie Luyendyk, hit the wall a few yards away from the site of Mansell's crash. David Kudrave, Mark Smith and Lyn St James also hit the wall last week.
Although Mansell missed last night's race as a result of the mild concussion he received, all the other drivers who have crashed at Phoenix this year competed. For despite the popular misconception that oval track racing is nothing but death, destruction, the sport has recently made enormous strides in driver safety. In fact, apart from destroying its gearbox and rear suspension, the accident inflicted little damage on Mansell's Lola-Ford. The tub, or driver's compartment, was intact. 'Everything is solid,' the Lola technical liaison, Neil Mickelwright, said. 'The tub doesn't even need repainting.'
Although IndyCar medical officials prohibited Mansell from racing yesterday, the Formula One world champion was game. He plans to return to England today. 'My back is sore, but I'm ready to race,' he said. 'I wanted to drive and the officials said no. I said I will sign any insurance waiver you want, but the answer was still no. That's the American way.'
Mansell's Newman-Haas team-mate, Mario Andretti, won yesterday's race - a full lap clear of the Brazilian, Raul Boesel, in another Lola-Ford.
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