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British car racer Wheldon killed in crash

Las Vegas, October 17, 2011

British IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, one of the most popular drivers in open-wheel racing, was killed following a high-speed 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday which left the motor sports world in shock.

The 33-year-old, a two-times winner of the Indy 500, was involved in a multi-car accident 13 laps into the Las Vegas Indy 300 which sent his vehicle flying and left wreckage and debris across the track.

Wheldon's car flew over another and caught part of the catch fence just past the apex of turn two.

The incident left Townsend Bell's car upside down and smoldering cars strewn along the track.

Wheldon, who lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, was flown by helicopter to University Medical Center in Las Vegas for treatment before his death was announced two hours later. Wheldon leaves his wife Susie and their two young sons.

'IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,' IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard said in a statement. 'Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.'

The race was canceled and drivers returned later for a moving and tearful five-lap tribute.

A popular figure, Wheldon was the 2005 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion and he won the Indy500 race that year and also in 2011 -- the 100th anniversary of the event.

When the drivers returned to the track, Wheldon's fellow British driver, Scotsman Dario Franchitti, was sobbing uncontrollably as he was strapped back into his car.

'I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff,' said Franchitti, who avoided the incident and with the cancellation of the race won his third straight series title.

'I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it's about. One small mistake from somebody...

'Right now I'm numb and speechless,' he said. 'One minute you're joking around in driver intros and the next he's gone.

'He was six-years-old when I first met him. He was this little kid and the next thing you know he was my team mate,' said Franchitti, who raced together with Wheldon at Andretti Green Racing.

Crews lined up along the pit lane and fans in the stands stood silently as the drivers paid tribute to the popular Wheldon.

British Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button led tributes to Wheldon.

'This is an extremely sad day. Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motorsport ladder in the UK,' said Hamilton.

'He 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.'

'This is a tragic loss at such a young age. My heart goes out to his family and friends during this extremely difficult time,' he added.

Jensen described him as a 'true fighter', adding 'I've so many good memories of racing with Dan. We've lost a legend, but also a great guy.'

Wheldon was one of Britain's most successful race car drivers and one of the rare few foreign drivers who made it big in the United States.

Wheldon, who died aged 33, was just one of two British drivers to win America's most famous race, the Indy 500, on more than one occasion. He won it in 2005 and again this year, which was the 100th anniversary of the race.

He was also runner-up in 2009 and 2010 and won the IndyCar Series title in 2005 with a series record six wins.

Wheldon began racing karts when he was four years old and progressed through the junior ranks in his homeland before deciding to move to the US in 1999.

Wheldon, who did not have a regular ride this season, could have won a $5 million prize which was on offer at the Vegas event for a non-full-time winner of the season finale.

The Englishman had not raced since winning the most recent Indy 500 in May.

While not a household name like Formula One drivers in Britain, Wheldon could certainly count himself as among the most successful British drivers in world motor sports.

After winning eight British national titles in karting and then finishing third in the 1998 Formula Ford championship in Britain, Wheldon moved to the United States in pursuit of better opportunities.

He clinched the F2000 Championship Series in 1999 with six victories and then moved into IndyCar where he won rookie of the year honours in 2003.

Wheldon claimed the 2005 series thanks to six wins for Andretti Green Racing. The Englishman later raced for Panther Racing and his final team Bryan Herta Autosport.-Reuters




Tags: crash | killed | British car racer | pile-up | Las Vegas Motor Speedway | IndyCar |

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