Even though this week’s BTCC Great only participated in a handful of events, he is still regarded as a legend of motorsport and took part in what could be said as one of the greatest races in touring car history, he is Nigel Mansell.
With a race CV that perhaps can’t be matched, Mansell has done it all. He became Formula One world champion in 1992 and then made history as he became CART Indy Car World Series champion of 1993, being the first man ever to win these two championships back to back. He is also still to this day the most successful British driver in F1.
His first foray in the series came at Donington Park for the TOCA Shootout in 1993. Mansell took the wheel a Ford Mondeo running his famous red number five on the car. After a hard fought race, it was to end in disaster for the F1 maestro. With six laps remaining Mansell lost control of his Mondeo at the exit of the Old Hairpin and made contact with the Vauxhall Cavalier of Tiff Needell. The contact sent Mansell into the wall under the bridge and made heavy impact with the wall. The crash knocked the Ford driver unconscious and left Mansell leaving the series licking his wounds and wondering if he would return to the BTCC.
The 1992 F1 world champion decided to go back to the world of single seater racing but a few years later soon got the call again for a swansong seasonal appearance in the series.
For 1998, Ford and West Surrey Racing announced at the start of the season that Mansell would return to the BTCC for three weekends of the season, the first being at Donington Park at the mid-point of 98′. Due to James Thompson running the number five on his Honda Accord, Mansell chose to run the #55 in red on his Mondeo instead.
By the time the BTCC class of 98′ arrived at Donington for a second time, Rickard Rydell was already building a strong title campaign in his Volvo S40. Mansell made his debut in the sprint race on a wet Sunday race day however it was short lived for the former F1 champion. A few laps into the race Mansell out braked himself on the entry to Coppice, aquaplaning his Mondeo into the tyre wall. TV footage showed Mansell complaining of a stiff neck but he was cleared by the doctors to race in the afternoon.
The second race of the day was he feature race which had mandatory pit stops implemented. Starting from the back of the grid; Mansell made a good start and stayed out of trouble the first few laps as he adjusted to the wet conditions. The WSR driver then began to make slow progress through the field as others retired from the race. After a significant amount of incidents, the safety car was called to allow time for vehicles to be recovered to a safe place.
Mansell found himself sitting in fifth position with a host of stars around him. Once the safety car pulled in chaos ensued with Cleland and Mansell moving forward straight away. The rough and tumble nature of the BTCC began to show as five drivers began bumping and barging for track position, Mansell prevailing as he took second place. Race leader Anthony Reid at the time was soon caught by Mansell and as they headed for Mcleans, the Nissan driver lost control of his car spinning into the tyre wall.
An eruption of applause greeted Mansell as he took the lead of the race and started to take control. Behind him Cleland began to close the gap and at the final chicane Mansell out braked himself gifting the lead and ultimately the win to the Scotsman.
It is all well and good explaining it but sometimes pictures just do the talking for you, so below is the action that unravelled on that wet day and perhaps what put the BTCC even more on the map than it already was.
Brands Hatch was where fans were able to see Mansell again however it was a weekend to forget for the Mondeo man. Both races saw the Donington superstar spun off into the wall out of Druids down to Graham Hill Bend and leaving him to state that he was purely getting out of the way of faster cars. At the final race weekend of the season at Silverstone, Mansell made his final appearance in the series. Unlike Brands Mansell was able to finish both races as he fought in the midfield picking up 14th and 11th in the two races. The highlight being a scrap between himself, team mate Will Hoy and Gianni Morbidelli in race one. In the end Mansell finished in 18th position with seven points for the final championship standings.
Since 1998 Mansell has been a part of the BRDC and raced with his two son’s in endurance racing. Mansell also has an empire of second hand car dealerships.
In next week’s edition of BTCC Greats we look back on the career of the man who holds the record for the most amount of championships, Andy Rouse.
PHOTO CREDIT: btcc.net