Motor Racing: Mansell's wet-weather debut

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The Independent Online
AFTER a day and a half of rain, the Arizona weather cleared long enough yesterday afternoon for Nigel Mansell to make his eagerly awaited oval track debut at the Phoenix Interational Raceway.

After warming up his Lola-Ford Cosworth in the pits for several minutes Mansell took to the track at 2.50pm Phoenix time and completed three cautious laps before returning to the pits for the Newman-Haas Racing team mechanics to check over the car and ensure that all systems were functioning properly.

Mansell returned for seven more laps recording a lap time of just under 26 seconds before again pulling into the pits. His run was curtailed by track officials because safety crews were not in place as it had appeared that the steady rain would prevent any testing.

After the return of the safety marshalls Mansell completed 15 further laps and recorded a fastest lap of 23.5 secs. For comparison sake, the track record is 20.3 set by Michael Andretti last April in a car similar to the one Mansell was driving yesterday. 'It's different, I'll say that,' Mansell said. 'Certainly very interesting from anything else I've ever done. A completely new experience.'

Mansell looked relaxed after his opening session in one of motor sport's most daunting challenges. 'I dont know if I enjoyed it,' he said. 'You'll have to ask me about that again later.' With better weather forecast for today, Mansell if expected to have his first full day's testing at the circuit.

The actor, Paul Newman, the co- owner of the team with Carl Haas, broke away from his work schedule to be at the track. 'It is great to see him (Mansell) here and out in our car at last,' Newman said. 'The interest here in him and the team is great and we are all looking forward to the year.'

Earlier this week Mansell drove the car on the road course at nearby Firebird Raceway. The sessions were designed as familiarisation runs. Although the Ford engine's power output is comparable to that of a Formula One engine (roughly 700bhp) the IndyCar engine is turbo-charged as opposed to the normally aspirated Formula One engine. Additionally, the rules stipulate that IndyCars must weigh about 500lbs more than Formula One cars.

According to Mansell, however, what required the most readjustment was the Newman-Haas car's manual transmission. The Formula One cars that he has driven in recent seasons for Williams and Ferrari were equipped with semi- automatic transmissions where the driver changed gears by pushing buttons on the steering wheel.

'The last time I'd drove a manual transmission it had six or seven gears,' he said. 'This one had five gears so I was having a problem remembering what gear I was in, sychronising the clutch with my gear shifts. It took six or seven laps before it came back to me.'

After 125 laps in two days on the road course Mansell compared the Lola to a Formula One car. 'With a Formula One car you have to get it by its neck and wring it to be quick. In some respects you can't do that with this car because of the extra weight. It'll bite you. But it's a very, very good car. Absolutely first class. Take 500 pounds off of it and it would be quicker than a Formula One car.'

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