Brits on the track
While British cars ruled Indy, one of few driver exports was N Mansell
Despite the plethora of British cars during the period in question, only two British drivers qualified for the Indianapolis 500. Jim Crawford was a regular during this time a story of determination and ultimate tragedy that culminated in 1988. Although in constant pain from a qualifying accident the previous year the Scot took the lead in his year-old Lola on lap 99. Eight laps later he fell back to third after yellow-flag pitstops. Eventually an unscheduled stop due to a deflating tyre dropped Crawford to sixth. It was one of the most courageous drives ever at the Brickyard.
Bruce Ashmore recalls that the other Brit, Nigel Mansell, “raised the game”. The reigning Formula 1 champion focused world attention on the 500 in 1993 after leaving Williams for Newman-Haas and going on to win the CART series. Recovering from back surgery after a practice crash at Phoenix, Mansell’s first oval race was Indianapolis itself (above, in Lola T93). By lap 174 he was third, and then pulled off the manoeuvre of the race to overtake Andreffi and Fiffipaldi. Inexperience meant he lost those places under a restart following a yellow, but he still took ‘Rookie of the Year’.
Mansell can be forthright about what happened in the following Indy 500. He had gone a lap down following a controversial stop-go penalty but was now the fastest man on track. The yellows came out and everyone headed for the pits, rookie Dennis Vitolo faster than the rest. As the cars slipped into the pitlane entry, Vitolo hit and flew over another car to land on Mansell’s Lola. “It was the craziest accident I ever had in my life,” says the Englishman.