INDIANAPOLIS -- The world driving champion walked ever so slowly to the podium. When he got there, he seemed to collapse into the chair. He just had driven the longest race of his career.
He leaned his elbows on the table, ran an index finger around the inside of the dirty collar of his driver's suit, and then rubbed his eyes.
So, Nigel Mansell, how was your first Indianapolis 500?
"I'm glad it's over," he said and giggled. "I think hitting the wall at 220, bouncing off and continuing on is very impressive, don't you? . . . But that restart, I can't believe it."
It was Mansell's first race on an oval and he came home third, despite a rash of rookie mistakes.
"I thought the early laps were hell," he said. "The rules are all so different and going down there, into the first turn, with eight or nine cars, there's no air and then the fumes make your eyes water. It was a very impressive sight and I had to remind myself I was driving as opposed to watching."
He showed his rookie stripes, when he missed his pit on an early stop.
"Did you see that?" he said, turning to Arie Luyendyk, seated beside him.
"No brakes?" asked Luyendyk, who later passed him for a second-place finish.
"No brains," Mansell shot back.
When Mansell hit the wall with seven laps to go, to bring out the last caution, he said he was content to come home third.
"I hit the wall hard and I mean hard," he said. "I was glad they brought the yellow for my self-preservation and I don't mind being beaten [yesterday]. Emerson and Arie deserved their places and I learned an awful lot."
Mansell also showed his great ability. He was one of the first to discover that a car could pass on the outside going into turn one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's newly designed race track.
He gave a demonstration on lap 175, when he blitzed then race-leader and teammate Mario Andretti with an outside pass on a restart and moved from third to first.
But when he found himself in Andretti's situation on lap 185, Emerson Fittipaldi and Luyendyk both took advantage of him.
"It was just an experience factor," said Luyendyk. "Coming to the restart, both Emerson and I set out to see what Nigel would do. We were able to get a little jump."
"Yeah, I goofed up," said Mansell. "I thought I had the gas and all I see is vroom, vroom, they're all over me. But just you wait till next year."
* It was A. J. Foyt's first experience as a car owner only at Indianapolis. And he enjoyed it.
"At the start, I didn't even think that much about not starting," he said. "I was more worried about the cars and the guys staying out of trouble. I knew we had a big job to do and I was worried about Robby quite a bit. I thought all in all he used his head real good, and considering where we started, I thought we did a hell of a job."
John Andretti, who started 24th, wound up 10th in Foyt's Copenhagen/Marmom Wasp II, and rookie Robby Gordon, who started 25th, finished 27th when the gearbox gave way.
* Mario Andretti's string of disappointments here continued unabated. Shortly after the midway point, Andretti had a 20-second lead on the field, the biggest lead anyone had all day. But teammate Mansell blew by him on a restart with 25 laps to goand Andretti finished fifth.
"I got stung by a bad set of tires," Andretti said. "It wasn't a mistake on the tires; it's just something you don't know for sure until you use them. It is frustrating, though, especially when you know the car is right."
* Mansell and Gordon weren't the only rookies who did well. Stefan Johansson finished 11th, and Stephan Gregoire, in his first oval race, came home 19th. And, Nelson Piquet, the former three-time Formula One champ, was 32nd, sidelined by an engine failure.
* Willy T. Ribbs had two goals going into yesterday's 500, and he reached both.
"Our first goal was to finish the race after a year and a half not being in a car," he said. "Our second was not to make any mistakes."
Ribbs, who started 30th, avoided all problems on the track and finished 21st.
* Lyn St. James said she felt good about her 25th place. At one point, she was running as high as 20th before her engine stalled.
"I drove hard, and the car was 100 percent there until it broke," she said."
The first five finishers in the Indianapolis 500:
1 Emerson Fittipaldi
2 Arie Luyendyk
3 Nigel Mansell
4 Raul Boesel
5 Mario Andretti