Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1993: Nigel Mansell tests an Indycar
Isolationism; a doctrine that has served America for decades was in full force when the Briton arrived. He was the reigning Formula One World Champion and yet was judged as a rookie by the American press and spectators alike. To this day, to hear the local commentators express surprise at his ability is astonishing.
Nigel Mansell was the Marmite man. You either loved him or loathed him but very few were indifferent to the theatre he brought to motor racing back in the eighties and nineties.
Twenty one years ago, he took the to the track in an Indycar for the first time and ended the day with the lap record to his name; an auspicious start to his stateside career.
After the Senna Indycar test of a few weeks earlier, Mansell was never going to simply work his way into the sport and this was borne out with the ensuing season mirroring his entire career.
He would win in dominant fashion, survived a huge crash on an oval – which supposedly injured his back – missed out on winning the Indy 500 because of his inexperience with rolling starts and then won at Michigan, a harder challenge than the Indy oval.
And whilst doing all this built himself an army of fans that delighted in his combative driving abilities; establishing records unlikely to ever be matched.
He became the first ever rookie to take pole and the victory in his first race.
He would claim the championship at his first attempt and for a period of weeks, was both the Formula One World Champion and the Indycar Champion.
Whilst it is a possibility that a rookie could win on his debut and repeat Mansell’s historic achievements, the likelihood of a reigning Formula One champion defecting to the States becomes more and more unlikely as the Indycar championship is seemingly in terminal decline.
An engineer was once quoted by a zealous journalist as saying of Mansell, “I believe he is actually misunderstood. I have always found him to be a balanced individual, he has a chip on both shoulders!”
This mis-use of a journalistic platform actually says more about the British journalistic profession – and their belittling attitude – than it does about this brave warrior.
Mansell was a brilliant talent, one that commanded the full respect of a certain Senna. He was adored by race goers the world over and was named IL Leone ( the Lion ) by the tifosi when he raced for Ferrari.
Yet the arrogant media seemingly never forgave him for being from Birmingham and being christened Nigel rather than Stirling, Damon or James with their private educations.
Mansell sold his home to pay for his progression to the pinnacle of motor-sport, overcame a broken neck and a number of other obstacles, yet the British media continues to portray him as a commoner with luck rather than use his example as an inspiration for others.
His team-mate over the 1993-94 seasons was veteran Mario Andretti: “I guess if Ronnie Peterson was the best team-mate I ever had, Nigel Mansell was the worst. I had a lot of respect for him as a driver, but not as a man.”
Lest we forget, this was a man who demanded Peterson subvert his ambitions to the Andretti legend in 1978..