Motor Racing: Mansell taming the oval

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL's IndyCar victory here on Sunday took his total to four wins from 10 starts. Three of those wins have come on an oval track, in a form of racing that nothing in Mansell's Formula One career could have prepared him for. Mansell calls it 'pure, thoroughbred racing'.

In a television commercial made for the team sponsor Texaco-Havoline, A J Foyt, who is one of only three men to win the Indianapolis 500 on four occasions, chides Mansell, 'Don't turn right.'

Mansell found out Foyt was not joking when he failed to heed the same advice from his team-mate, Mario Andretti. During practice for his first oval race at Phoenix in April, Mansell instinctively corrected for understeer in a corner by tweaking the wheel to the right and ended with a session under the surgeon's knife for his trouble.

Apparently that was the last time Mansell needed to be told how to handle himself on an oval because on his next attempt, at the Indianapolis 500, he finished third. He has followed that by winning each of the three oval races he has entered since.

On a one-mile oval, the laps average around 30 seconds, which means the leaders catch and pass the backmarkers and midfield runners early and often. Thus they are working in traffic almost constantly. The air turbulence around the IndyCars in traffic upsets the delicate aerodynamics that give downforce and stability to the car. It takes courage and confidence to keep the throttle down entering a turn at close to 200mph, side-by-side, sometimes three abreast, with slower cars front and back.

After his victory here, Mansell admitted that he still felt like a novice. 'I learned things out there racing today. The manoeuvre that Paul (Tracy) put on me several times, I wouldn't have dreamt to do it. But at the end of the race, I found myself trying it.'

The Canadian, Tracy, who lost the lead to Mansell for the third and final time in traffic with 10 laps remaining, said: 'He got wise to some of the moves I was making and he got me in traffic.'

Mansell enjoys a strong but not invincible lead in the standings. Of the five races remaining in 1993, one is an oval, three are natural-terrain circuits and one is a temporary street circuit.

Asked about next season, Mansell, who is holding talks with Carl Haas, the Newman- Haas team leader, said: 'I am still in negotiations with Carl Haas but I will say it looks good for staying here.'

INDYCAR WORLD SERIES Leading positions (after 11 races): 1 N Mansell (GB) Lola- Ford 144pts; 2 E Fittipaldi (Bra) Penske-Chevrolet 119; 3 P Tracy (Can) Penske-Chevrolet 100; 4 R Boesel (Bra) Lola-Ford 98; 5 M Andretti (US) Lola-Ford 97; 6 B Rahal (US) Lola-Chevrolet 80.