Mansell Back in US Open Wheel Racing
Photos/text by Carl Wagenfohr
1992 Formula 1 and 1993 CART series champion Nigel Mansell (left) and his son Greg in the Sebring paddock last week.
SEBRING - For the first time since 1994, the Mansell name will have a place on the grid of a professional U.S. open wheel racing series. In fact, it will occupy two places.
The sons of former Formula 1 world champion and part-time Clearwater resident Nigel Mansell, Leo and Greg, will contest the 2008 Formula Atlantic series as drivers for the elite Walker Racing team.
Both young men were at Sebring International Raceway last week, participating in pre-season testing under the watchful eyes of their father. Their mother, Rosanne, and sister, Chloe, accompanied them as well; the racing careers of Leo and Greg are clearly a family affair.
Asked what attracted the Mansells to the U.S. during this still formative stage of Leo and Greg's racing careers, Nigel gestured to the sunny and warm surroundings and joked, "Look at this weather."
Humor aside, their decision to depart the UK Formula 3 series in favor of the US Formula Atlantic series was well calculated. "The Atlantic series has more power, more download, you pull more G; it's more demanding," Nigel said, "Formula 3, as great a formula as it is in England, is very, very expensive - and this has got 100-horsepower more. If you're looking at moving up the ladder, this is a great stepping-stone for Champ Car, IRL [Indy Racing League] or wherever it takes you."
The Mansell's affection for Clearwater also played a role in their decision. "There's a special place in my heart for Clearwater and the whole Tampa Bay area. We're very pleased that we own property in Clearwater. When we can, we come for holidays and it will be our base for the racing season," Nigel said.
Asked if he'll be restraining his sons' ambition this year, Nigel said, "I want them to play golf; this is crazy. Play golf or go fishing, but motorsport is crazy."
Little did Nigel know that craziness was to erupt just several days later, as SpeedTV.com broke a story about the possible merger of the IRL and Champ Car, the two top level US open wheel racing series.
While terms of the proposed merger will provide Champ Car teams with IRL-spec racecars and engines, the outlook for Atlantic teams is uncertain. Derrick Walker, owner of Walker Racing, said, "It's difficult to make any decisions at this point until we know what Champ Car has in mind, unless Atlantics merges with the IRL as well. Atlantics from the competition standpoint is healthy and well run. One can't help to believe that whatever happens to Champ Car, Atlantics will be able to stand on its own and continue to be strong in the development of young drivers."
Leo Mansell pilots his Mazda-powered Formula Atlantic car through Sebring Turn 10.
Greg Mansell at the exit of Sebring Turn 5.
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