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Tracy, Andretti, Mansell Moving in Different Directions : Laguna Seca: Canadian on pole, veteran retiring and Englishman getting out of Indy cars in a hurry.

October 09, 1994|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONTEREY — Indy car racing bids farewell to Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell today, but there is no need to shed a tear for Paul Newman and Carl Haas, whose cars Andretti and Mansell drive.

Michael Andretti, the 1991 Indy car champion and Mario's son, will step into the seat left by his father. Paul Tracy, one of Roger Penske's dominating trio of drivers, has a handshake option for Mansell's ride--if Penske will release him from his contract, which runs through 1995.

Curiously, the Andrettis will start side by side today in the sixth row for their final race together--the Bank of America 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway.

The Newman-Haas team had a news conference scheduled Saturday to announce Tracy as one of its drivers, but it was abruptly canceled when Penske did not give Tracy his release. Penske has until Nov. 15 to re-sign Tracy for next season or let him go.

Apparently Tracy's late-season success has Penske giving second thoughts to his previously announced plan to run a two-car team next year. The young Canadian driver was a runaway winner of the last race at Nazareth, Pa., and was the fastest qualifier for today's race, final event of the 16-race Indy car season.

Tracy's Friday lap of 113.768 m.p.h., a track record, was good enough to claim the pole, as unseasonably hot weather held speeds down.

Mansell qualified third at 112.146 for his final Indy car race. Jacques Villeneuve, another young Canadian, will start on the front row with Tracy after posting a speed of 112.244.

Tracy recently tested with the Benetton-Ford Formula One team in Portugal and was offered a multimillion-dollar three-year contract to drive for them next year, but he said that he wanted to remain in Indy cars--with or without Penske--for a few more seasons.

"The opportunity is there, but right now I want to concentrate on Indy cars," Tracy said. "I need to wait until my family is older."

The Tracys have two children, Alysha Rachelle, 18 months, and Conrad, who was born Sept. 13.

Tracy is in a no-lose situation. If Penske keeps him, he will remain part of the most powerful team in racing. If he is released, he signs with Newman-Haas and joins a team that has won two of the last four Indy car championships.

"I can't say enough about my association with Roger Penske," Tracy said. "He took me on when I was a nobody and gave me a great opportunity. He helped put me on the map where I am now. It was great being able to work with Rick (Mears) and Emerson (Fittipaldi). If I move on, that's OK. I'll just try to take each step as it comes along."

Mansell is wasting no time in returning to his Formula One roots.

Immediately after today's 84-lap race, he will hop a helicopter from the infield to the nearby Monterey airport, where he will head for England in his private jet.

"We will refuel twice before landing in Exeter sometime Monday afternoon," Mansell said. "On Tuesday and Wednesday, I will be at the Estoril course in Portugal, testing the Williams for next Sunday's race in Spain. We will practice for two days in Spain before the race.

"I shall try to stay out of trouble, get into the time zone, get a good finish and get on to Japan and Australia for the last two races. I will enjoy that because I will get in some deep-sea fishing down there."

British writers insist that Mansell will drive for Williams in 1995, rejoining the team with which he won the world championship, but Mansell remains coy about his future beyond this year's final three Formula One events.

"I am not the one to answer questions about the future," he said. "That will be decided by others. All I can be is patient and see what is in store for me."

One thing he did admit, though, was that his estate in Clearwater, Fla., was on the market. Asking price: $15 million.

The main house on the nearly five acres along the Gulf of Mexico has 66 rooms, 12 full baths and five half-baths. Also on the property are two guest houses, a caretaker's house and a three-level garage with hydraulic lifts to stack the cars.

"I am leaving with nothing but wonderful memories of my two years here," the 41-year-old Englishman said. "Last year was magical. This year was certainly disappointing, but we had our moments. What happened this year only made me savor '93 more. I didn't appreciate until this year what we accomplished last year."

After winning five races and the PPG Cup championship as a rookie in 1993, Mansell has only three poles and two second-place finishes this year. He is in sixth place in points

Mario Andretti, who will close out a 31-year career in Indy cars today, was not so precise in his departure plans. In fact, the man who has put together one of the greatest records in racing history sounded as if, even at age 54, he had made a premature decision to retire.

"At this stage (of a usual season), I was planning for the next test," he said. "Nine days after this race last year I was testing at Indianapolis. Michael is planning all his tests. I'm not doing that, and I miss it.

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