GIVE THE MAN TIME. After all, Nigel Mansell is only a rookie.
Mansell, the 1992 Formula One champion from Great Britain, made his first start in an Indy Car event at Sunday's Australian Indy Car Grand Prix at Surfers Paradise—and his inexperience showed. Early on he was forced to make a penalty pit stop for passing another car during a caution period. Later he made an unnecessary stop when he mistakenly thought he had a punctured tire. He spun his wheels wildly leaving the pit and later brushed a wall.
He also won the race. Mansell, piloting a Lola-Ford for the Newman-Haas racing team, simply outdrove the field of established Indy stars to win his debut. Starting from the pole on the 2.8-mile street circuit, he finished more than five seconds ahead of runner-up Emerson Fittipaldi. (The only other driver to win his first Indy Car race was another mustachioed Brit, Graham Hill, who won the 1966 Indy 500.) "Not a trouble-free run," said the 39-year-old Mansell after his Australian triumph, "but it's been a long time since I enjoyed myself more."
Despite his spectacular 1992 season, during which he set Formula One records for pole positions (14), wins (9) and total points (108) while driving for the Williams-Renault team, Mansell grew weary of the high-pressure world of Grand Prix racing. An irascible bloke beloved by British fans, Mansell clinched the world championship last fall, then announced his intention to move to the Indy Car circuit. BETRAYED screamed the Sun of London, but Mansell never looked back.
In a high-octane game of musical cockpits, Mansell took the seal vacated by 1991 Indy Car champ Michael Andretti of the U.S., who had decided to jump to Formula One. In his first F/1 effort Andretti crashed after five laps of the South African Grand Prix on March 14. That race was won by three-time world champion Alain Prost of France, who had replaced Mansell on the Williams team.
None of this interests Mansell. "Formula One doesn't exist for me at the moment." he said, grinning alter his win. "The Indy Car world series is my life. This is a huge adventure."