Motor Racing: Mansell takes pole position

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FINAL qualifying for the Detroit IndyCar Grand Prix was completed yesterday with Nigel Mansell taking the pole position. Emerson Fittipaldi will start beside him for today's 77-lap race, which will be held on a 14-turn, 2.1-mile road course on Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit river.

In the hour-long morning practice which preceded final qualifying, the provisional pole-sitter, Paul Tracy, continued to set the pace. Tracy, who led the race last year while substituting for an injured Rick Mears, piloted his Penske PC22 to a lap of 1min 10.983sec, markedly faster than the 1:11.902 lap which got him the provisional pole. 'The car is really working well,' Tracy said. 'We're just trying to save the motor for qualifying.'

Mansell, still suffering from a lack of familiarity with the twisty, tricky circuit, had been second quickest, 1.2sec back. Bobby Rahal was third, followed by Emerson Fittipaldi and Andrea Montermini.

Rahal had been quickest in the session's opening minutes, posting his fastest time of the weekend. His return to the fore with the hitherto unsuccessful 1993 Lola-Chevrolet marks the emergence of a new threat to Mansell's pursuit of an IndyCar title.

In the afternoon, the slower of the two qualifying groups (based on Friday's times) took to the track first under bright sunshine, followed by the top portion of the provisional grid. Tracy's first quick lap was interrupted by a loping Mario Andretti, and Mansell put up the weekend's best time, a full second better than provisional pole. After cooling his tyres for a lap, Mansell's second effort, somewhat less tidy, was slower.

Fittipaldi, meanwhile, had also displaced Tracy, who was in the pits. Clearly, the first hot lap on stickier tyres was going to be the quick one, but Tracy would get only one try. He had brushed the wall with his left front, and his car was pushed away. 'I was trying to carry a little more speed, and the car didn't accept it,' he said.

With 10 minutes left and little traffic on the circuit, Fittipaldi went back out for a final try, and Mansell followed. As Fittipaldi began his hot lap, however, he, too, found a concrete wall. 'I was going to have a good run (at Nigel), and I hit the wall two corners before the pit,' he explained. Team Penske was through for the day, and Mansell's pole was secure.

'I think the conditions were a little bit better this morning,' Mansell said. 'This afternoon was a little bit warmer, and the balance changed in the car, but, obviously, I'm delighted to get in the high 10s (1:10.902), and even more delighted that it was quick enough to get pole position.'

Mansell expected the race to be difficult. 'It's going to be tricky when you have to overtake - especially if you come up on backmarkers - and then you have to have their co-operation,' he said. 'I think the track is very demanding, you don't have a minute's peace.'

Stefan Johansson qualified fourth behind Tracy, with Rahal fifth, and the surprising Montermini sixth.

Johansson, the third PC22 in the top four, talked of his chassis' qualities. 'It's a really, really good race car, and it's good everywhere,' he said. 'It doesn't matter where we go, the car is good. We can get it (to go) quick with just two or three changes at any track, it seems.'

Mansell now has three pole positions - Fittipaldi, Andretti and Tracy have one each - and he will attempt to match the total tomorrow with his third victory of the season.

DETROIT INDYCAR GRAND PRIX Leading final qualifying times: 1 N Mansell (GB) Lola- Ford 70.902sec (ave speed 106.627mph); 2 E Fittipaldi (Bra) Penske-Chevrolet 71.422; 3 P Tracy (Can) Penske-Chevrolet 71.902; 4 S Johansson (Swe) Penske-Chevrolet 71.944; 5 B Rahal (US) Lola-Chevrolet 72.026; 6 A Montermini (It) Lola-Chevrolet 72.122.