Motor Racing: Super Mario keen to finish business: Mansell's team-mate predicts tough year ahead while new British marque sets off

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The Independent Online
MARIO ANDRETTI opened the Autosport International Show yesterday in his own, inimitable style, pledging a final season's commitment in IndyCars, lamenting the ill-fated Formula One venture of his son, Michael, predicting a tougher year ahead in America for Nigel Mansell and sprinkling proceedings with his one-liners.

Andretti, a month away from his 54th birthday, will again partner Mansell in the Newman-Haas team, driving a Lola-Ford. His motivation is a last tilt at the Indianapolis 500, the centrepiece of the IndyCar programme. Mansell, third last year, is equally intent on winning that race, as well as retaining his championship.

Mansell's title ambitions, Andretti suggests, may prove more difficult to achieve this time. The Italian-American said: 'What Nigel did last year was as remarkable as could be. He took advantage of the situation, showed his skills and he has my highest esteem. It was not a surprise to me, but perhaps to himself, how well he did on the ovals. His car was prepared for him immaculately. I didn't feel left out, I was left out. I didn't even exist. I think I helped him but no more or less than he would have done for me. I did the decent thing as a team-mate.

'He's a legitimate contender this year. It was not a fluke he won last time so I won't be surprised if he retains it but it will be sweeter for him because it looks as though it's going to be closer this time. It's so unpredictable. You've got more than five guys who could win it.

'This year he's starting with a different outlook. He'll know what to look for more. Ignorance can be bliss. There is a very real danger he could fiddle around with things too much, as I often do. I'd like to see him contribute more in testing because before he couldn't. Two heads are better than one.'

Andretti, who won the Formula One championship in 1978 and has four IndyCar titles, claimed his only Indianapolis 500 success in 1969. He said: 'It's realistic for me to think in terms of finishing in the top five in the championship and win a couple of races, but I really want to give the 500 another go. I feel there's unfinished business there. Today there's so much depth in the field you have to give yourself a full season to go for the 500. You can't come in cold turkey.

'I'm really pushing myself to the limit and squeezing the last bit out of me. Physically I'm OK, but I know a lot of things are not there. I know I'm not as quick as I used to be but I'm quick enough to justify being there. Everywhere I go it'll be the last time in a single- seater, so it will be emotional, but the motivation to give it as strong a lick as I can makes me look forward to it. But it's not going to be a carnival, I'm there to race.'

Among Andretti's rivals this year will be Michael, who was sacked by McLaren three races from the end of his first season in Formula One and replaced by Mika Hakkinen.

Andretti Snr said: 'Michael is a man with a mission again. He's right there. He's already done twice as much testing as he did all last year. Every negative has a positive. Last year was pure hell for me. I felt helpless. I couldn't get involved, he was navigating in his own waters. He didn't have the results to cover up the problems.

'Certain aspects played against him from the beginning. Had Ayrton Senna signed from the start there would have been no need for McLaren to sign another top driver like Mika. The team felt responsible to Mika. I dispute the claims that Michael should have been in Europe. We don't hang around the shop. When he was needed he was there. He was begging to test.'

(Photograph omitted)