It’s funny how sometimes, when you’re looking up something, you stumble across something entirely different that immediately grabs your attention because of its unique subject matter.
Such was the case Thursday afternoon. While looking up something else about IndyCar racing, we ran across an online story by Road & Track magazine (RoadandTrack.com) that we had never heard of before.
The well-written story by Travis Okulski was about former Formula One and CART champion Nigel Mansell and his first test in an Indy car on January 4, 1993 at the former Firebird International Raceway (now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park) in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.
Before we talk more about the test, the only reason Mansell crossed the Atlantic to come race in America was because his ride with Williams in Formula One went away after 1992, even though Mansell captured the F1 championship that same season.
Without an available F1 ride, Mansell came to the U.S., when ironically, just as 1991 CART champ Michael Andretti moved to F1 to race for McLaren. In a sense, Mansell became the de facto replacement for the younger Andretti with the Newman Haas Racing squad.
Getting back to the CART test at Firebird:
Now, a test is usually a test, no matter what type of motorsport you’re in. But Mansell’s first effort in an Indy car had the kind of back story that would definitely qualify for the late Paul Harvey’s “Now You Know The Rest Of The Story” radio series.
You see, and as Okulski so aptly described, Mansell prepared for his first run in an Indy car by taking to the 1.6-mile road course first not in an open-wheeler, but in an all-white 1993 Cadillac rental car – at a time when Cadillacs were more like four-wheeled boats and not the much more nimble rides they’ve since become.
Mansell took a couple laps around in the Caddy before climbing into the Indy car. It didn’t take long before the Englishman broke Firebird’s single-lap record.
Beginner’s luck? No, rather, a great skill that would ultimately pay off later that 16-race season with five wins – plus a third-place finish in the 1993 Indianapolis 500 – as well as 10 podiums, six poles and capped off with the CART championship.
Unfortunately, Mansell’s tenure in CART was short-lived. After his great rookie campaign, he struggled in his sophomore season, failing to win a race, earning just three podiums and three poles. The 1994 season would be his second and last in CART before he returned home to his native England.
Here’s a video about Mansell’s initial CART foray – including his run in the Caddy – you definitely want to check out.