Tributes for British IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon killed in Las Vegas
Leading British drivers have paid tribute to double Indy 500 winner and 2005 IndyCar champion, Dan Wheldon, who died from injuries sustained in a huge accident at the IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas on Sunday.
Wheldon, who was competing in the Las Vegas Indy 300 as part of a $5 million challenge to win the race, had started from the back of the 34-car field and was moving his way through the pack when he was involved in a 15-car crash.
The 33-year-old was airlifted to hospital but died from his injuries.
Series chief Randy Bernard confirmed the tragic news at 3pm, local time: "IndyCar is very sad to announce Dan Wheldon passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dan and his family. IndyCar, its drivers and teams have decided to end the race."
The race was red-flagged on lap 12 and abandoned two hours later with competitors instead driving a five-lap salute in Wheldon's honour.
Double Le Mans winner Allan McNish was one of the first to pay tribute via Twitter, saying: "Rest in peace, Dan. We will miss you. All my thoughts are with the Wheldon's right now. Sad day" while BBC F1 commentator, Martin Brundle, commented "this is a cruel sport" and former World Touring Car Champion, Andy Priaulx, added: "So sad to hear about Dan Wheldon, what a fantastic guy."
F1 driver were also quick to pay their respects. Jenson Button, who raced with Wheldon in the early days of their racing careers, wrote: "I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early '90s, a true fighter. We've lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy."
Lewis Hamilton described the events as an "extremely sad day", adding: "[Dan] was an extremely talented driver. As a British guy, who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration."
Scot Dario Franchitti, who was confirmed as 2011 IndyCar champion at the Las Vegas race, said: "Rest in peace Danny boy. We'll miss you my friend."
Fellow IndyCar driver, Mike Conway, who himself suffered an horrific racing accident last year, also paid tribute to his colleague and friend: "Having raced against Dan for many years, I respected him greatly as a driver as well as a friend, and today's tragic accident is a huge loss to motorsport."
Fifth Gear presenter and former racer Tiff Needell met Wheldon when he was a mere lad, saying on Twitter: "Dan Wheldon the little kid I interviewed for a Top Gear karting special long ago who would be a double Indy winner now gone forever – RIP".
Red Bull F1 racer Mark Webber tweeted his tribute: "Rest in Peace Dan. I remember our early days in the UK 95/96.. Miss ya.." BBC F1's Lee McKenzie added: "Shocking news from Indy race. Dan Wheldon was a great driver and family man. Although you know it's dangerous, you just never expect it."
Wheldon's death drew comments from those outside of motor racing including Manchester United and England footballer, Wayne Rooney, who tweeted his own tribute: "Sad news about Dan Wheldon. RIP. News like this puts everything into perspective. #waytoyoung"
Wheldon's career began when most of us were waddling around our parents' living rooms talking about how we wanted to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when we grew up. Having been involved in karting since the age of four he followed the 'standard' junior career path of a racer. He took time off from school to race, leaving after completing his GCSEs.
Early in his career he developed a rivalry with Jenson Button while they were competing in open wheel races.
1999 saw Wheldon move to the US to compete in the F2000 Championship Series, the Toyota Atlantic Series and the Indy Light Series. His move was caused by an inability to secure funding for a UK-based career.
Wheldon entered two IRL IndyCar Series events in 2002 with Panther Racing. The following year he took the freshly retired Michael Andretti's spot at Andretti Green Racing. His performance was so impressive that he won the Rookie of the Year Award. 2004 saw his first win at Japan's Twin Ring Montegi circuit, the first of three over the season.
In 2005 he took the IndyCar Championship having won six races (including the prestigious Indianapolis 500) and broke the record for most wins in a season. That year it was announced that he'd be racing with Chip Ganassi Racnig in 2006.
Wheldon finished as runner up in 2006 because, even though he had the same number of points as eventual series winner Sam Hornish, he didn't have enough race wins.
Panther Racing reclaimed Wheldon at the end of 2008, where he was hoping to repeat his many victories. While he didn't prove as successful as before, he still managed a second place in the '09 Indianapolis 500 – the second consecutive runner-up spot at the race for Panther. The 2010 season saw Wheldon take the second spot at Indy again and prove himself competitive all year round.
However, because Wheldon didn't win a race for Panther he was dropped by the team for the 2011 series and was replaced by J R Hildebrand. Not put off by the turn of events, Wheldon entered the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with Bryan Herta Autosport and won it after Hildebrand wrecked on the final turn. The video is below...
Wheldon is survived by his wife Susie and two children Sebastian and Oliver.
(Additional reporting by Alex Goy)