March 21 in Motorsports History: Nigel Mansell wins IndyCar debut

Leave a comment

Less than six months after winning the Formula One World Championship, Nigel Mansell began a new chapter in his racing career on this date in 1993.

At the age of 39, the Briton was an IndyCar rookie, making his debut for Newman/Haas Racing at CART’s season opener in Surfers Paradise, Australia.

Mansell’s anticipated debut drew more than 800 accredited media and a weekend attendance of 220,000. The whole world was watching, and the Briton did not disappoint.

Nigel Mansell celebrates winning in his IndyCar debut at Surfers Paradise. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

In qualifying, Mansell set a record-breaking lap to become the first driver in IndyCar history to win the pole position in his first race.

But Mansell did not fare well in his first rolling start, as he was quickly passed by the Penske cars of Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. He fell back to fourth after being passed by Robby Gordon shortly after.

However, Mansell quickly became comfortable in his new car and made his way back to the front to win by 5 seconds over Fittipaldi. By doing so, he became the first driver to win in his IndyCar debut since Jim Clark at the 1966 Indianapolis 500.

Mansell went on to four victories in 1993, all on ovals. He clinched the series championship by winning the season’s penultimate race at Nazareth in September. For the next week, Mansell had the distinction of being both the defending Formula One and IndyCar champion at the same time.

Mansell returned to Newman/Haas again in 1994 but went winless. He also returned part time to F1 in 1994, running four races with Renault. and scoring his final victory in the Australian Grand Prix. In 1995, he ran two races with McLaren before retiring from open-wheel competition.

Also on this date:

1960: Three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna was born in Brazil. He won 41 races over 11 seasons in F1 before his death in a crash at the Grand Prix of San Marino in Imola, Italy.

1966: Kenny Brack, winner of the 1999 Indianapolis 500, was born in Sweden.

1999: Greg Moore won for the fifth and final time in his career, defeating Michael Andretti by 1.110 seconds at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Moore was killed later that year in a crash during CART’s season finale at California Speedway.

2015: The No. 5 Mustang Sampling team of Sebastien Bourdais, João Barbosa, and Christian Fittipaldi won the 63rd running of the 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing a full lap ahead of second place. 

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

Leave a comment

The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994