Motor Racing: Patience still the key for Mansell: IndyCar future favourable for Formula One world champion

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The Independent Online
BEFORE the IndyCar season began, there were two schools of thought concerning Nigel Mansell's prospects for following his Formula One world championship with an IndyCar title. One held that Mansell would dominate the championship. The other suggested his impact would be felt chiefly by the concrete walls of the oval tracks. Mansell may prove both views to be at least partially correct.

He leads the standings by 19 points from Emerson Fittipaldi and Raul Boesel. After winning in Australia, Mansell has consolidated despite missing Phoenix after crashing there.

With 20 points for a win plus bonus points for fastest lap and most laps led, the lead is hardly secure - a poor result this week in Detroit could eradicate it. Had Mansell had difficulty in adapting to ovals - which comprise six of the 16 races - his title chances could have been jeopardised.

After Phoenix, that scenario seemed likely. Since then, however, Mansell has demonstrated remarkable patience and progress. With minimal practice time at Indianapolis he drove well but lacked the machine. On Sunday, only as he fought to pass Boesel for the lead did his driving display any of the darty, ragged style which had brought him trouble in Phoenix.

Certainly, Mansell has benefited from having Mario Andretti, perhaps the last great oval champion, as his team-mate. Andretti's testing has provided the basic set-up which allows Mansell to arrive and drive, doing little more than fine-tuning.

Further, although Mansell expressed frustration with the single-car qualifying at Indy and Milwaukee, after winning from seventh position on Sunday he now knows oval-track races can neither be won simply by taking pole position, nor need they be lost by failing to. In the last 11 races, only two one-mile ovals and the Michigan superspeedway remain, and the calendar favours his prospects.

Andretti, Boesel, Scott Goodyear and Arie Luyendyk, however, drive near-identical Lola-Fords and have more experience over the varied venues. The Penske PC22 is equally competitive, and Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy will prove formidable adversaries.

All machines have been reliable, and the battle seems to be between Mansell, Boesel and Fittipaldi. Last year, however, mid-season technological developments shifted the balance, and that may happen again.

This weekend's race on the tight, slippery Belle Isle street circuit should prove eventful. In 1992, Rahal profited from contact between Tracy and Michael Andretti to take victory on the 2.1-mile, 14-turn course. Any of 12 drivers may win, with Mansell given no quarter.