Motor Racing: More unique challenges face Mansell: Change for IndyCars

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THIRTY-ONE drivers from 10 countries will take to the Milwaukee Mile tomorrow as the IndyCar World Series continues an early-summer grind that will see it journey to four types of tracks in five weeks. Last Sunday's Indianapolis 500 will be followed in quick succession with visits to the Milwaukee mile-oval, Detroit's Belle Isle street circuit and the Portland permanent road course.

Milwaukee is the second of four mile-ovals on the calendar. Just two months ago, while practising on a similar track at Phoenix, Nigel Mansell, who holds a slim lead in the points standings over his team-mate Mario Andretti, crashed heavily and was prohibited by officials from competing in the race itself.

Each 'short' oval, however, presents unique challenges, although as Bobby Rahal's three victories in 1992's four events indicate, there are similarities. Last year, only Milwaukee escaped Rahal's grasp en route to his second IndyCar title.

This year, having failed to qualify for the 500 with a car designed in 1990, Rahal will drive a newly bought 1993 Lola-Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, Michael Andretti, who won four of Milwaukee's last seven runnings, has gone to Formula One, and Rick Mears, who won in 1988 and 1989, has retired. Of the drivers entered this year, only Andretti and Al Unser Jr have won the race, which has been a part of the championship since 1933 and is second only to Indianapolis in longevity.

Andretti won at Phoenix earlier this year, but only after the exit of the Penske PC22s of Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi went on to win the Indianapolis 500, but no conclusions should be drawn concerning Milwaukee. The demands of super- speedways are completely different to those of mile-ovals, where the cars compete in road-course trim.

Tracy dominated the Phoenix race prior to exiting at the hands of a backmarker, overshadowing the fact that Mansell had been quickest prior to his crash. Because of shallower banking and a bumpy surface, Milwaukee is in some ways even more difficult. However, given a properly set-up car, Mansell is a favourite, and his main challenge will be coming to terms with the heavy traffic and quick closing speeds.

Tracy's Phoenix superiority suggested a mechanical advantage, and though IndyCar rules restrict most technological development, an improved differential may have been in use. If so, Fittipaldi will likely probably benefit as well, and Penske may prove difficult to beat.

Opening practice began late yesterday under cloudy skies, and Rahal quickly erased any doubts as to his competitiveness. Having obtained his new chassis from Lola on Sunday night before the 500 and lacking time to test, he employed baseline settings derived from the 1992 Lola he put on pole here last year.

Within minutes, he moved into the top-three behind Fittipaldi and Andretti, with Paul Tracy and Mansell rounding out the top-five. After several brief interruptions due to rain, the session concluded without incident. Fittipaldi, fresh from his Indianapolis win, picked up where he left off, setting fast time with Andretti second fastest.

Mansell, who was third quickest, deferred most questions until today, saying that he had not had time to collect his thoughts since getting out of the car. 'It's a short track, and it's very busy,' he said. Mansell is still in some pain from his recent back surgery and is looking at another two to three weeks before full recovery.

INDYCAR WORLD SERIES (Milwaukee, one mile): Leading qualifying times (US unless stated): 1 E Fittipaldi (Bra) 22.307sec; 2 Mario Andretti 22.671; 3 N Mansell (GB) 22.716; 4 P Tracy 22.945; 5 B Rahal 23.254; 6 S Johansson (Swe) 23.177; 7 R Boesel (Bra) 23.254; 8 R Guerrero 23.254; 9 S Goodyear (Can) 23.296; 10 M Groff 23.497.