Nigel Mansell was always spectacular regardless of the car he drove. Give him a wheelbarrow, and his antics would still draw a crowd. So, after making the controversial move across the pond to compete in CART after winning the 1992 F1 World Championship, the Briton had no problem filling the grandstands. High on confidence and ebullient, this clip shows “Il Leone” in his prime, wrestling with a Lola T93 at one of the fastest tracks in North America. This, ladies and gentleman, is one of the greatest qualifying laps in recent history.
The car, a ’93 Lola T93/00, was arguably one of the prettiest cars from the CART era, and also one of the wildest. The 2.65-liter, Ford-Cosworth XB made roughly 750 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. It also revved to 12 grand, and thanks a six-speed and a slippery shape, the trimmed version of the car could manage 242 mph on the ovals. On the road course, with a little downforce from the aerodynamic elements on top of the car, drag and gearing kept it from reaching those speeds, but it could still nudge 200 at the end of Road America’s daunting straights.
It was an older, brutal style of car which didn’t have the downforce or the agility of a modern IndyCar, but compensated with drama, that relentless surge, and an engine note to die for. Thanks to the pump-action sequential, Mansell’s hurried downshifts are audible in this footage, and on several occasions, the motor screams a little louder than his engineer might have liked.
Without 21st-century downforce pressing the car into the pavement, it writhes and wriggles underneath Mansell’s heavy right foot. Even at higher speeds, the rear dances as Mansell tries to apply the power. The nose is incisive, but at around 1,800 pounds — closer to one ton with the brawny Englishman inside it — it’s not free from understeer, especially in Turns 2, 5, and 6. His courageous approach entails a lot of rolling speed. Clearly, he’s trying to wrestle every ounce of performance from the open-wheeler, but it’s not the aggressive attack of a young hot-shoe. This is a more measured approach of a seasoned veteran. He never locks a brake, nor gets the car too far out of shape. It’s simply confident, accurate, and borderline suicidal at points.
Perhaps the corner with the most for Mansell is Turn 11, also known affectionately as “The Kink.” Grabbing Fifth gear as the speedometer ticks past 180 mph, Mansell barely breathes off the throttle to ensure the nose turns in, but leaves nothing on the table, really. This is one of the few points in his narration where he breaks from his characteristically monotonous Brummie accent and shows some enthusiasm.
Clearly, Mansell thrived on the fast, dangerous corners and was willing to extend himself more than his competitors in these risky sections. At an old-fashioned track like Road America, courage pays dividends; Mansell set a qualifying lap roughly one second faster than anyone else that session! Threading the needle at those speeds, with the wall just a few feet away, is exactly why Mansell earned the big bucks in his day.