Formula One Drivers Who Attempted The Indy 500
While it is unusual for an active Formula One driver to participate in the Indianapolis 500, several former contenders have made the trip with varied success.
The most discussed appearance came in 1993, when defending World Champion Nigel Mansell showed up with Newman-Haas Racing. The “British Lion” came to the U.S. after a nasty breakup with Williams F1. The IndyCar newcomer quickly became accustomed to his new surroundings, getting up to speed at Indy despite having never participated in an oval track race.
After qualifying eighth, Mansell quickly moved toward the front on race day. He first took the lead on Lap 56, and despite missing his pit box near halfway, the British star stayed among the top–five. Late in the race, Mansell used a breathtaking outside pass to lead with 20 laps to go. Holding off Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk, it appeared Mansell was destined to become the first rookie to win since Graham Hill in 1966.
However, another caution erased Mansell’s lead and set up another restart. Inexperience denied the newcomer a win as Fittipaldi and Luyendyk outfoxed the Indy novice, dropping him from first to third. Mansell then survived a late race brush with the outside wall to maintain third-place and take Rookie of the Year honors.
The following year, despite dominance from Penske-Mercedes’ duo of Al Unser, Jr. and Fittipaldi, Mansell started to pose a threat for victory once again near the halfway mark. Sadly, the British driver failed to capitalize on the momentum as a freak accident during a caution flag with Dennis Vitolo ended his day.
Also making an appearance in the same 1993 event where Mansell made his debut was three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet. The 77th Indianapolis 500 would be the Brazilian’s second attempt, after suffering serious leg injuries in a testing crash the year before. Unfortunately for Piquet, race day in 1993 was also a limited exercise, as a blown engine relegated him to 32nd.
Following Mansell and Piquet’s efforts, a few drivers who enjoyed some success in Formula One took their shots at the Brickyard. Among them, Eddie Cheever added his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy after winning in 1998.
Through this decade, the most recognizable Formula One participant was ex-Scuderia Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. Despite initially agreeing to only run road courses for KV Racing in the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series season, he had a change of heart and showed up at Indy alongside teammate and good friend Tony Kanaan. Quietly consistent all month, Barrichello just missed out on making the Pole Day shootout and qualified tenth. On race day, Barrichello drove conservatively to finish 11th and secure Rookie of the Year honors.
Stay tuned to Popular Speed for more historical memories on the road to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
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