Pippa Mann

Pippa Mann thought her career racing at the Indianapolis 500 was over.

The English driver, who only races in the NTT IndyCar Series’ premier event at Indianapolis each May, failed to qualify her Dale Coyne Racing entry for the Indy 500 in 2018 and the emotion she showed was the realization that her career may have ended in the cruelest of ways.

“I thought I would never be returning to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a driver and it was difficult to accept,” she said. “I didn’t see a way back and didn’t know how it was going to happen.”

Still, Mann showed grace in keeping all of her commitments despite her broken heart.

While 33 drivers were preparing to race for 500 miles the Sunday before Memorial Day, she was behind a closed garage door showing off her Donate Life Indy car to sponsors, who had backed her effort.

When those same 33 drivers were racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famed 2.5-mile oval, she was in a suite, entertaining many of those same guests.

That’s when Tim Clauson approached and told her he was thinking of fielding an entry in the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

Suddenly, there was hope again.

“That was the turning point,” Mann said after being announced Feb. 27 as the driver of Clauson-Marshall Racing’s No. 39 Driven2SaveLives Chevrolet for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. “That was the moment that I started to believe that it may be possible to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway again.”

A six-time Indianapolis 500 starter and the first female pole winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when she won qualified first for the Indy Lights Freedom 100 in 2010, Mann formed a friendship with Tim Clauson’s son Bryan when they were teammates at Dale Coyne Racing in 2016.

As the team’s Indianapolis 500-only drivers, they were often paired for engineering debriefs and events for the team. They understood what each other was going through and had hoped to be teammates in future Indianapolis 500s.

But when Bryan sustained fatal injuries in a midget racing accident a few months later, he gave the gift of life by donating his organs.

The next year, Mann still became Bryan’s teammate, honoring her friend by becoming an ambassador for the Driven2SaveLives campaign, which honors Bryan Clauson’s choice to be a life-saving organ donor. She finished 17th in the race, her best result to date at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“The ability to become a donor hero,” Mann said, choking back some emotions. “It’s such an important message for everyone to understand. When you choose to become a donor hero, if something does go wrong as it did for Bryan, you are saving the lives of other people.

“It’s such an incredibly important decision for people to make and there are so many people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.”

Tim Clauson said Mann was the only choice for his team’s first effort at Indianapolis, especially after seeing how she handled herself in wake of missing the race last year.

“When she didn’t qualify last year and we saw the way she carried through the two or three days after of fulfilling every commitment she had, and fulfilling every obligation she felt she had to us as a family, I decided that if I ever did (enter a car for the Indy 500), she would be one I wanted to do it with,” Tim Clauson said.

With the spark of hope, Mann and Clauson started working on a plan to put the program together. Several sponsors who backed Mann in 2018 opted to return when she told them of the chance to race with Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Suddenly, the opening chapter of the comeback story that Mann hopes to author this May was already written.

“It’s not so much (me) being back in a car this year,” Mann said. “It’s coming back to the Indianapolis 500 for Clauson-Marshall Racing, driving the Driven2SaveLives Chevy and driving the (No.) 39, which is Bryan’s number. It’s not simply the car. It’s what the car is and who I’m driving for.”

And how does Mann picture the story ending? Simple.

“I am out for redemption,” she said. “I want not only to be in the field, but I also want it to be my best run ever. The cause, the car and the team I’m driving for are so incredibly important, but I’m a racing driver, too. I really want to make Tim (Clauson), (co-owner) Richard (Marshall) and Stanley Ross proud of me as a racer and a representative of their cause.”

May activities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway begin with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course May 10-11. Indianapolis 500 practice begins on the 2.5-mile oval on May 14, with qualifying weekend set for May 18-19. The 103rd Indianapolis 500 is set for Sunday, May 26, with tickets available at IMS.com. The race airs live at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.