Mansell: Those were exceptional times
[Editor's Note: Note what Mansell says in the last two paragraphs. Just a reminder what Tony George destroyed by starting the IRL. Instead of figuring out a way to chip away at improving the greatest racing series in the USA, he set out to destroy it. And destroy it he did. It took many years, but he won, and in doing so destroyed the sport of IndyCar racing. History must never forget this so that the same mistake isn't made again.]
A few weeks ago a reader asked our editor-in-chief Nigel Roebuck if it was true that Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell didn’t like each other. The answer is, yes, it’s true. In fact, Andretti and Mansell could barely tolerate each other and endured a very icy relationship during their two years together as IndyCar team-mates at Newman/Haas in 1993 and ’94.
Mansell at Phoenix, 1993
Andretti first encountered Mansell during his world championship-winning Lotus days. Mansell joined Lotus in 1980 as a third-string and test driver at a time when Andretti and Elio de Angelis were Lotus’s number one and two and from day one, for whatever reasons, Mario and Mansell took an instant dislike for each other. zzzz
Newman/Haas Racing was founded in 1983 as a one-car team focused entirely on Andretti after he had reluctantly retired from Formula 1 and Mario spent the last 12 years of his career with the team. He was its only entry from 1983-’88 before his son Michael joined the team in a second car in 1989. Michael was at the top of his game in those days and he won the CART championship in 1991 and led the most laps in the Indy 500 in 1991 and ’92.
In 1993 Michael made a move to F1 with McLaren where he was teamed with Ayrton Senna and Paul Newman and Carl Haas scored a coup by convincing current F1 World Champion Mansell to quit F1 and race Indycars for them. I wrote a story in the August issue of Motor Sport about Mansell’s two years in America and I encourage anyone who missed it to read that story about what occurred as Mansell won the ’93 CART title and had a less productive second season before returning for his brief F1 swan song with Williams and McLaren.
Amid Mansell’s triumphant first year with Newman/Haas, the 53-year old Andretti could not have been more unhappy. “That was one time were I felt somewhat betrayed,” Mario says. “I don’t want to cry about it, but I think Mansell came on there and being the charmer that he was, he separated the team. We were not a team anymore and that was allowed to happen because that’s what Mansell demanded.”
Andretti maintains that he and his engineer Brian Lisles never sat down and compared notes and data with Mansell and his engineer Peter Gibbons. “I felt totally isolated,” Mario recalls. “There was no passing of any information on to me. I don’t know who to blame but it was certainly a period of time that Mansell was allowed to totally dominate the situation. It was kind of a bittersweet thing for me. Peter and Nigel would never sit down with us and discuss anything that went on over the weekend. It was a perfect example of a two-driver team that was as divided as it could possibly be and the ambience, or the atmosphere, was not good. It was not fun to go racing like that.”
Jim McGee was Newman/Haas’s team manager in 1993 and ’94. McGee and Andretti had worked together through the late ’60s when Andretti won three USAC Championships and the ’69 Indy 500, and knew each other well. “When I went to work for Carl, the reason Carl hired me was not so much for Mario,” McGee remarks. “It was for Mansell. Carl made it perfectly clear to me that my big job was to look after Mansell and make sure he was happy. I think Mario felt like I should have been there more for him than for Mansell, but that’s not the way Carl laid the deal out for me.
“I don’t know if Mario even knew that. When Carl hired me he said, ‘Jim, this Mansell’s going to be a handful and I need you to take care of him.’ Mario had a good relationship with Brian Lisles for four years and I did focus on Mansell and I guess that pissed Mario off quite a bit.
“Mansell was such a showman. He was a magnet for the press and I think Mario thought the press should have been paying more attention to him in his last few years. Another thing was Mansell was very generous with the team. He gave them bonus money in cash and that really pissed Mario off.”
And Mansell? He brushes off Andretti and revels in a high point of his career. “There were a few times when it was quite frustrating with the other side of the garage,” Mansell remarked. “When that happened we just focused on getting on with doing the best we could achieve.
“Looking back,” he adds, “I think to win the IndyCar championship in my first try was an even bigger achievement than we felt at the time because IndyCar racing was a totally different discipline than Formula 1 and to walk straight in and get pole position and win my first race and win four oval races in my first year, it was pretty amazing stuff.
“The Indy Car World Series was mega-competitive in those days. There were many great drivers and teams and it was a great accomplishment to win the championship in such a competitive environment. Those were exceptional times in America with the popularity of IndyCar racing at the time. It was just magnificent.” Motor Sport Magazine