It is 18 years since he won the F1 World Championship, 17 since he swept to success the other side of the Pond in IndyCar and more than a decade-and-a-half since his final grand prix victory – but in 2010, Mansell-mania is back, as 'Red 5' returns to the race track this weekend to 'make history' at Le Mans.
The #5 Beechdean Mansell-run LMP1 Ginetta-Zytek in this year's Le Mans is being piloted by a trio of Mansells – Nigel and sons Leo and Greg – which is a first in the history of the round-the-clock La Sarthe classic, and fever for one of Britain's greatest motorsport heroes was back with a vengeance during the drivers' parade ahead of the 78th edition of the race referred to as 'the toughest in the world'. Only this time, in triplicate.
“It's incredible,” enthused the 1992 F1 World Champion, 31-time grand prix-winner and Le Mans debutant, speaking exclusively to Crash.net
. “We're making history – starting the race with Leo and Greg is I think the only time a father and two sons have raced together in the Le Mans 24 Hours, so that's just amazing and everyone seems to be extremely happy.
“I'm very proud, because it's history-making, and although we're not as competitive as we'd like to be we have to gain experience, and to gain experience you have to do the job. To get our entry accepted and to be here competing in LMP1 is a fantastic achievement.
“I've never experienced anything like [the parade] before. It was my first time to do something like that in Europe. I've done it at Indianapolis, but I have to say the French are incredibly enthusiastic at Le Mans and the ACO put on a hell of a show. It's really quite wonderful.”
Mansell has, of course, enjoyed a phenomenally successful career, and whilst having failed to win the Indianapolis 500 means he will not be eligible to lay claim to the coveted and extremely rare 'Triple Crown' of Indy, the F1 World Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours, you get the sense that the 56-year-old is now racing more for the fun of it than in a quest to add to his extraordinary career CV.
“It's been a great challenge and the track is superb,” he mused. “Night-driving at the speeds we're doing is incredible, and of course the main thing over 24 hours is reliability. It's going to be very hard work to make the car last for 24 hours, but the manufacturer together with us as a team is going to work very hard to achieve that. If we can finish, it will be a hell of an achievement – and if we can get the sponsors and if we can be competitive, we'd love to come back again.”