Mansell's day comes to a crashing halt

May 30, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Nigel Mansell, the defending IndyCar champion and former Formula One champ, left the Indianapolis 500 in shock yesterday.

"I can't believe I've been put out of the race under a yellow flag," he said.

Mansell was driving down the entrance road toward pit lane when, suddenly, rookie Dennis Vitolo's car hit him, got airborne and landed on top of his car.

"The next thing I know, my car's moving half-backward with a car on top of me on fire," Mansell said. "So I've got a slight concussion. That much I know, because I'm nauseated. I feel sick. I'm just so disappointed."

Mansell had just gotten into third place on the track, when the incident occurred on Lap 92.

He leaped from his car, smacking his backside and rolled on the ground with a safety crewman on top of him.

"I was getting burned a little bit," he said. "The fumes came into the car and I've just upset all the medical people."

"Mr. Mansell," said track doctor Henry Bock, "walked out before we could complete our exam. So we don't know exactly what his condition is."

Mansell, who finished 22nd, said he would see his own doctor when he gets home.

"It's just unreal," Mansell said. "Suffice to say that I'm upset and I just want to go home. To be put out of the race under yellow, I'm almost in shock."

It's over

Mario Andretti was saved a last-lap heartbreak yesterday in his 29th and final Indianapolis 500 when his car developed fuel system problems just 23 laps into the race, while he was running among the leaders.

Andretti sat in the car for 13 laps before finally giving it up, and getting out to cheers of "Mario. . . . Mario."

"We were definitely in the ballpark," said Andretti. "Just a couple little adjustments in the car. All the possibilities were still with us, but it just wasn't meant to be, I guess.

"You wonder why, you know? But it's just one of those things. It was an internal piece that failed. But it's the fans that make it bearable, all the support. It's been so phenomenal, and I feel very blessed because of that. I hope I take all the bad luck with me and leave all the good luck with Mike and John."

Mario's son Michael finished third, but was given a one-lap penalty for passing under yellow and placed fifth. "We fought hard all day. And to take away a hard-earned third place is very disappointing," said Michael. "When it comes to the month of May, I wish our family name was Unser."

Nephew John finished 10th and then flew to Charlotte for yesterday's Coca Cola 600 Winston Cup Stock Car race.

Penske defends engine

All month long, Roger Penske has heard his team criticized for bringing a new Mercedes stock-block engine to Indy.

Following the USAC rule book, Penske discovered he could have significantly more horsepower with the stock-block engine.

Competitors criticized the move as anti-competitive. They said the engine, currently usable only in this race, will force other teams to spend excessive amounts to stay competitive or go out of the business.

"The rules have been in place for three years," said Penske. "Anyone could have done what we did.

"I hate to feel the cold water that is coming out after such a wonderful run by Al and Emmo. . . . And I've had enough of it.

"I don't come here with five or six cars like some, and I'm pretty tired of hearing the complaints about us spending a pile of money.

"Mercedes bought 25 percent of Ilmore Engineering. We had a developmental budget in place. They didn't and we didn't spend $1 more to get this engine than we would have with any other engine. It's a matter of getting an engine block and machine heads. Anyone could have done it."

Penske said he will write a letter to the IndyCar board of directors asking if he can run the engines in IndyCar events and at what horsepower.

In his father's image

Rookie Jacques Villeneuve could not conceal his happiness with a second-place finish yesterday.

He had crashed in each of his three previous IndyCar races.

"The only oval my father ever raced on was with snowmobiles," said Villeneuve, recalling the late, great Gilles Villeneuve of Formula One fame. "And I don't know if my racing is like his. But I would be very happy to see his face today, if he was here."

Penske expansion

When Penske explained his two-car team to three this season to make room for Al Unser Jr., it marked the seventh time in team history that Penske had made such a move.

It happened the first time in 1973, when he added a car to accommodate Bobby Allison, who started 32nd and finished 12th here.

Among Penske's Who's Who additions list: Allison, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser.

"When Little Al became available this season," said Penske, "I couldn't let it go by. With his experience [10 years], age and understanding of racing, I wanted to make a long-term relationship. I can see him not winning just two more, but maybe three more."

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