England’s Nigel Mansell, the mustachioed gladiator who wore his heart on his sleeve, left nothing on the table, and pulled some almighty maneuvers, found the switch to touring cars tricky. By the end of 1993, when he was both a Formula 1 champion and a CART champion, he took the opportunity to drive a touring car. Mansell went to Donington Park at the end of the year and, thanks to his presence, packed the bleachers as only an English national hero can.
As Mansell hadn’t touched a touring car for a decade and change, he realized in his practice laps what a task was in store for him. As we’ll come to see, driving a low-powered touring machine requires a different touch than a thoroughbred racing car, and even one of the most successful men in single seaters won’t necessarily run well in something much slower.
“It’s something totally, totally different. You’ve got no wings on the front or the back to adjust, and in some regards, it’s more sensitive. You’ve got to learn what the car is capable of; not what you want it to do,” Mansell cautions in his monotonous Brummie accent.
Different driving demands aside, what touring cars offer than bewinged single seaters can’t is the close-contact style of racing that invites a different set of overtaking maneuvers. Fortunately, Mansell is one of the gutsiest men in all of motorsport, and his ability to dice wheel-to-wheel is second to none.
There was never a dull moment with him. Even with a charging start, Mansell’s return to touring cars did not start on a strong note. A misfiring engine, caused by a faulty fuel pump setting, dogged the Briton until he sorted the problem well into the race—though the lead pack had stretched a gap in the meantime. Brought back in contention by a safety car, Mansell proceeded to wow the crowd before a violent end.
Crashing over curbs and chucking his Ford Mondeo sideways in typical Mansell style, he bounded through the field into fifth. Facing off against greats like Steve Soper and Tiff Needell, he showed his class; Mansell was a man who, like a red rag waved to a bull, would become increasingly aggressive and spectacular when victory was within his grasp.
However, that could be his downfall on occasion—never short on gusto, Mansell could overstep the mark when the adrenaline was coursing through him. After clipping the curbs, the rear of his Mondeo let go, and Mansell had to wrench to unassisted wheel onto the lock stops to keep from spinning. Unfortunately, the rear of his Mondeo never regains traction fully, and as he spins across in the other direction, Needell clips him and sends him spinning wildly into the wall. Never before has a violent crash been captured some completely; with the panting, the obvious effort, and the palpable fear within the cabin.