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Mansell Learns a Harsh Lesson : Auto racing: In practice for his first oval-track event, he suffers mild concussion in crash and will miss today's race.


PHOENIX — Nigel Mansell's learning curve for Indy car oval tracks came to an abrupt halt Saturday morning when the Formula One champion smacked the wall at Phoenix International Raceway.

Mansell, whose Newman-Haas Lola-Ford was the fastest car on the one-mile oval before it poked a three-foot hole in the concrete barrier on Turn 1, ended up in Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix with a mild concussion and a bruised right shoulder. Multiple X-rays and a CAT scan found no other injuries.

"I told him it was better here than Indy," said Jim McGee, team manager for Newman-Haas.

Mansell was ordered to remain in the hospital overnight and will not be allowed on the track for today's Valvoline 200, race No. 2 on the Indy car schedule.

"The back end went away and I said to myself, 'There's no way I can get it back,' " Mansell said from the hospital. "I was on it (the throttle) when it hit. It was a big impact. I ducked down, and the next thing I remember is waking in the helicopter. It must have been a long time because the helicopter was landing."

Mansell was entering the first turn after a hot lap when the car began to lose traction. It slid halfway around and backed into the wall with such force that it punctured the barrier.

"Welcome to the club," said Mario Andretti, Mansell's teammate and also a former Formula One champion. "Nigel just learned about Indy car racing. We hear all the time from foreign drivers who say about oval racing, 'What's all the fuss about?' What they don't realize is that things you can get away with on a road course you can't get away with on an oval. And the negative side of Indy car racing is that there are no soft landings in these cars."

Mansell told doctors that he wanted to race today, but Dr. Steve Olvey, Indy car director of medical affairs, said no.

"My back is sore, but I'm ready to race tomorrow," Mansell said. "We were turning (lap times of) 20.7s, 20.8s and 20.9s (seconds). It goes without saying we would have been competitive. I told them I will sign any insurance waiver you want, but the answer was still no. That's the American way."

Canadian Scott Goodyear set a track record of 172.804 m.p.h. in Derrick Walker's Lola-Ford Cosworth to win the $10,000 pole-sitter's bonus, but Mansell had a faster unofficial lap of 173.044 m.p.h. in a practice session.

Andretti (172.294) and Emerson Fittipaldi (172.093) also bettered the record of 171.825 set last year by Mario's son Michael, who has switched to Formula One this season.

Mansell, who left Formula One as the world champion to drive on the American open-wheel circuit this season, had never driven on an oval in traffic before Saturday's practice sessions. All of his 181 Formula One races--and his opening Indy car victory last month at Surfers Paradise, Australia--were on road courses.

His was the first car out of the pits when practice started, and by the third or fourth lap Mansell seemed to be right at home in circling the oval in close to record time. Then, shortly before noon, it happened.

"They say things happen on ovals and you don't know why," Mansell said. "I guess they'll say, 'Welcome to the club.' "

They already had.

This means that Mansell's first oval race will be the Indianapolis 500.

Goodyear, the surprise runner-up to Al Unser Jr. in last year's Indianapolis 500, said his first Indy car pole was the result of a dedicated effort toward that end.

"We came here to be on the pole," he said. "That's what we were working toward, but the minute we were P1 (position one) we came in, filled up with fuel and started working on our race setup.

"Traffic is going to play the biggest part in tomorrow's outcome. I think six or eight guys can win any given weekend. What will make it interesting is that within three or four laps, the leaders will be on top of traffic."

Race Notes

Bryan Herta of Los Angeles and former motocross champion Jeff Ward of San Juan Capistrano inherited front-row positions in today's Indy Lights preliminary race after qualifying was canceled. The lineup for the 75-lap race was determined by practice times, and Herta and Ward were the fastest. Qualifying was canceled after Ward hit the wall because of a possible malfunction in the rear suspension of the new Lola Buick used in the series. New parts are being flown in from the Lola factory and will be installed on each of the 15 starters before the start of today's race. "The lower rear A-arm broke loose and the car just came around," said Ward, who was not injured. "There was nothing I could do."

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