Race car driver dead! RIP Wheldon
Serious safety questions were being raised today after it emerged that the British IndyCar champion killed in a 225mph smash had been offered a $5million incentive to race from the back.
As tributes poured in to Dan Wheldon, it was also revealed that the 33-year-old was among of group of drivers who had voiced concerns about the speed of cars and the cramped conditions on the track.
The father-of-two suffered horrendous injuries after his car hit another vehicle at breakneck speeds in the Las Vegas Indy 300. He was catapulted helplessly into the air before landing on a barrier and suffering fatal injuries.
Mr Wheldon's Dallara-Honda had weaved its way through the field of cars after starting at the back in a desperate bid to claim the lucrative prize.
Just days earlier Mr Wheldon had joined a number of other drivers in expressing the fears over the speed of cars and overcrowding on the oval-shaped track. But in a blog post, he had promised fans he would go out to win and put on a show of 'pure entertainment'.
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Tragedy: Dan Wheldon's number 77 car, far left, launches into the air after clipping a vehicle that was in front of it. Moments later Mr Wheldon smashes into the fencing to his right
Devastated: Clive Wheldon, accompanied by sons Austin, 26, and Ashley, 30, makes a statement following the death of his son
The 1.5 mile-long Motor Speedway track in Las Vegas is 60 per cent shorter than the one used for Indy-33 races. This may have caused a deadly combination of 34 cars crowded on the track, lighting fast speeds and fierce competition.
The fiery pile-up, on the 11th lap of the 300-mile race, was caused by contact on Turn 2 and sucked in almost half of the race’s 34 participants.
Footage from Mr Wheldon's vehicle shows him steering to the left to avoid the pile-up. But he drives into the back of a car in front which acts like a ramp and fires Mr Wheldon into the air at more than 200mph. His car slips over before landing on the 'catch fence'.
Mr Wheldon, a former private school pupil originally from Buckinghamshire, was rushed to hospital in a helicopter but died as a result of his severe 'unsurvivable' injuries. Despite wearing a helmet and being strapped into the cockpit, his chances of escaping alive were slim.
As the racing world today came to terms with the death, leading figures from the sport paid tribute to the 'talented and inspirational driver'. But IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard will now face tough questions on safety as analysis begins of the fatal crash.
The sport has always been regarded as more dangerous then Formula One with four IndyCar drivers having been killed since 1996. But the big-money prizes and lucrative sponsorship deals have attracted many drivers, including Nigel Mansell who competed in the CART Indy Car World Series in 1993.
Family, friends and leading figures from the world of motorsport paid tribute today to Mr Wheldon.
Fighting back tears, Clive Wheldon, 59, came out of the family home in Buckinghamshire around 5pm and said his son died in a sport he was born to
He said: 'The family would like to thank everybody for their overwhelming sympathy in such a difficult time. Daniel was born to be a racer and yesterday he left us doing what he loved, he was true gentleman and champion on and off the track.
'He was a devoted son to Sue and myself, loving husband to his wife Susie and a loving father to his children Oliver and Sebastian.
'Words cannot describe how much our family will miss him. He touched so many and the world is a better place for him having been in it. We want to thank everyone for allowing us time to grieve in private.'
Lewis Hamilton, who was the 2008 Formula One World Champion, said: '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.
Mr Wheldon's blue and white car takes off in the air. It appears to have hit the back of the green vehicle in front, which acted like a ramp and launched the British driver upwards
Out of control: A close up of the moment of impact shows the rear left wheel of the green car pushed up by Mr Wheldon's vehicle, which reaches a steep angle
Milliseconds after the initial impact, Mr Wheldon's car has spun upside down as it hurtles towards the fencing. Will Power's car, right, is just beginning to take off
Will Power's car is flung into the air as a large number of vehicles collide in the pile-up and sparks fly. Mr Wheldon's vehicle has gone ahead of them and can no longer be seen in this shot
Will Power's number 12 car is seen flying through the air. The vehicle was not crushed against the fencing in the same manner as Mr Wheldon's and he survived the accident
Will Power's car lands close to the barrier facing backwards without suffering the severe damage inflicted on Mr Wheldon's vehicle, which is further down the track
Smashed to pieces: Wheldon's car, only identifiable by the B & W logo, is shown in the far left of the picture. The car is upside down and the driver's head has clearly been in contact with the barrier
The severe extent of the damage to the number 77 car, left, can be seen. Wires and shards of metal are hanging loose from it as flames engulf the tale
Fire: Mr Wheldon's car is momentarily lost in a ball of flames as it hits the barrier. Wheels and parts of the body of the vehicle are flung onto the track
Flames: Mr Wheldon's car skids across the asphalt on its nose having lost both front wheels and the rear spoiler in the crash. Will Power's vehicle is seen behind him against the fence
'Unsurvivable injuries: Mr Wheldon's head is flung to the left as his 77 car, now without any wheels, spins away from the fence towards the centre of the track
Medics rush to Mr Wheldon's damaged car as it becomes clear that he is severely injured. Some workers are seen waving, frantically trying to get more assistance
The race to save his life: Dan Wheldon is loaded into a medical helicopter and airlifted to hospital
THE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED
'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.'
Jenson Button wrote on Twitter: 'Just woken up to the most horrific news. Dan Weldon RIP. 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.'
Former Formula One world champion Jody Scheckter wants his son to quit IndyCar racing following the death of Briton Dan Wheldon.
Scheckter was a spectator at Sunday’s Las Vegas Indy 300 and had an anxious wait before discovering son Tomas had escaped unharmed from the 15-car crash.
'I’ve wanted him to give up for a while,' said Scheckter. 'Hopefully this will knock some sense into him and realise there is more to life. It really isn’t worth it.'
Questions were also being asked about the safety of the course amid speculation that Mr Wheldon was pushing himself too hard after a difficult season. He had started in last position but with offer of a $5million bonus for drivers who win from the back of the gird, had already weaved his way through ten cars before going into the back of another vehicle.
Trails of sparks could be seen across the asphalt before Mr Wheldon's car was flung into the air and struck part of the 'catch fence' outside the bend.
Debris from the cars was strewn across the track as they spun into each other and careered into the fencing. Flames then engulfed Mr Wheldon's shattered vehicle which skidded on its nose across the tarmac.
Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the pile-up.
Rescue workers were at Mr Wheldon's car quickly, some furiously waving for more help to get to the scene. A helicopter descended onto the track moments later and airlifted Mr Wheldon's body to the University Hospital in Las Vegas.
The former champion's injuries were so bad that there was little that the medics could do to save him. He was pronounced dead a short while later and officials were informed two hours after the initial crash.
Mr Wheldon's wife Susie, and two sons, Sebastian, two, and six-month-old Oliver, are understood to have been at his bedside when he died, as well as his two brothers and a sister.
Outside the Wheldon family home in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, today, a family friend was seen coming to the door to receive flowers and condolences from neighbours.
The friend - who did not wish to be named - said Dan's mum and dad Susan and Clive were at the family home but were too upset to comment.
He said: 'They are in no fit state to speak to anyone at the moment, they are resting after a very difficult night. They will not be giving a statement right now.'
The Wheldon family - whose son Dan was privately educated at the nearby Bedford School - own a seven bedroom large sandstone cottage in the village.
Neighbour Jean Garrett, 49, said: 'I have known the Wheldon family for 27 years and I have known Daniel all his life. Our thoughts, my husband's, myself and my family, are with them.
'I can't get my head around it at the moment. When they first moved into the village I got to know Sue, his mother, and we became friends. It just feels like there is a big hole in my life now. I never went to America to see Daniel but I would always make sure that i would visit him when he came back home.
'He was a lovely person. I can't believe what has happened.' Rector Richard Caddell, from Emberton's All Saints Church, paid his respects to the family this morning.'
Speaking outside the home in the rain he said: 'I know the Wheldon's well but it is too soon to tell whether they will hold the funeral here or in America.'
Graham Smith, 63, from the Association of British Kart Clubs, said his Dan was a talent even at a young age.
Graham's son Malcolm raced alongside Dan when as a youngster he won the British Championship in karting in 1988, 89 and 90 - with another racing great Jensen Button winning the year after.
Graham, from Southam, Warwickshire, said: 'Even at an early age it was clear Dan had a great talent, he won everything he entered up until Jensen came in.
'It's a shame we never got to see Dan in Formula One, but I actually think he probably went on to have a better career in the United States. It is just so very sad that it has ended this way.'
Mr Wheldon had weaved his way through ten cars to place himself in a promising position close to the middle of the field in the early stages of the race. He was in a strong position to push for a victory and as a proud family man, the $5m would have been a big help to support his wife and children who had started a new life with him in the U.S
Organisers of the race had offered the massive bonus to any non-regular IndyCar driver, such as Wheldon, who had started at the back of the field. He was the only racer to accept the challenge.
Proud family man: Wheldon poses with wife Susie, who is holding baby son Oliver, and older son Sebastian on the day after he won Indianapolis 500 in May of this year. With them is the Borg-Warner trophy
Champion: Mr Wheldon poses with a trophy and his young son Sebastian after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May this year. Right, celebrating on the track after the race
Proud father: Mr Wheldon holds his son Sebastian, when he was just eight weeks old, at his Snell Isle home in St. Petersburg in 2009
Teenagers: Mr Wheldon, left, and Jenson Button, right, chat during the Formula Ford Festival and World Cup, at Brands Hatch in 1998
Happy times: Dan Wheldon, middle of the second row, enjoying himself during his childhood
Early success: Mr Wheldon, who started racing aged four, is pictured third from the right, on the front row, during the Championship Cadet Series in Shenington near Banbury in 1988
Despite his previous success, he had struggled with financial backing this season and had topped up his income with commentary work.
The race was abandoned after the tragedy and as news of Mr Wheldon's death spread there were emotional scenes track side.
Some of his colleagues and friends broke down in tears while others looked on in a stunned silence, still coming to terms with the news that the vibrant driver had gone.
IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard confirmed Mr Wheldon’s death at a press conference.
Devastated: Team mates Jenson Button, left, and Lewis Hamilton, right, have both paid tribute to Wheldon who they have called 'inspirational'
Support: A neighbour delivers flowers to the home of racing driver Dan Wheldon's parents in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, today
Two young fans look at the memorial, as right, Bob Herring and his wife Cindy embrace at the gate to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
TRIBUTES FROM RACING WORLD
He said: ‘IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.’
Fellow driver Dario Franchitti, Wheldon’s former teammate and friend since the age of six, said: 'I’m numb and speechless. One minute you’re joking around in driver intros and the next Dan’s gone.'
Franchitti claimed there had been warning signs of potential danger due to the number of cars in close confinement at such high speeds.
He added: 'I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff.
'I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it's about. One small mistake from somebody...
'We put so much pressure on ourselves to win races and championships, and it’s what we love to do. Days like today it doesn’t matter.
'I think everybody in the IndyCar series considered Dan a friend. He was one of those special, special people.
'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. '
Moments before the start of the race, popular Wheldon, a two-time winner of the famously tough Indy 500, sent his last Twitter message. It was just one word - 'Green!!!' - the colour on the lights that signals the start of the race.
Although officials had decided to end the race, after learning of his death, 19 of Mr Wheldon’s fellow drivers went on to perform a five-lap salute in his honour.
Many of them were visibly shaken and almost all of them covering their eyes with dark sunglasses after being told that their colleague's injuries were fatal.
When the drivers solemnly returned to the track, Wheldon's No. 77 was the only one on the towering scoreboard.
Franchitti sobbed uncontrollably as he got back into his car for the tribute laps.
Over speakers at the track, the song Danny Boy blared, followed by Amazing Grace as hundreds of crew workers from each team stood solemnly on the side of the course. Supporters in the stands stood up in silence for the tribute.
Television cameras captured Ashley Judd, the wife of Mr Franchitti, dabbing at her eyes shortly before the official word came.
Video replays showed Wheldon's car turning over as it was airborne and sailed into what's called the 'catch fence,' which sits over the safety barrier that's designed to give when cars make contact.
IndyCar officials also cancelled its season-ending banquet following the death. They had planned to hold a celebration for the 2011 season tonight at Mandalay Bay Resort on the Las Vegas Strip.
Today it emerged that Mr Wheldon had become 'frustrated' before the race with technical problems in the number 77 Bowers & Wilkins Magnolia/William Rast Dallara/Honda. He complained that the vehicle was 3mp off the pace but said adjustments were being carried out.
'If we start the race that far off the pace, it's going to be difficult to keep up,' he wrote on USA Today.
Tributes: The gate to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where fans have been leaving touching tributes to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon
Patriotic: Drew Boyd places a checkered flag as a tribute to Dan Wheldon underneath a British flag placed in honour of the driver
It's actually been a very difficult weekend for us so far. But I've been watching these guys work their tails off trying to fix this problem, and I believe they'll turn it around before Sunday's race.
'It is incredibly frustrating, both for me and them. All the boys are working as hard as possible, but so far we haven't pinpointed what it is.
'Honestly, if I can be fast enough early in the race to be able to get up there and latch onto those two, it will be pure entertainment. It's going to be a pack race, and you never know how that's going to turn out.'
Sheer disbelief: Brazilian driver Vitor Meira at a drivers meeting after the deadly crash and, right, crew members look at the remains of one of the crashed cars
Tangled mess: Members of driver Paul Tracy's team inspect the remains of his car
Shocking aftermath: Cars are scattered on the track after a 15 car crash during the Las Vegas Indy 300
Stunned and tearful: Drivers take five tribute laps in Las Vegas on Sunday in honour of Dan Wheldon
Dazed: IndyCar racer Danica Patrick walks away from pit road after the tribute laps
Choking back tears: Stunned fans weep as drivers pay their five-lap tribute
Touching tribute: Teams line up on pit row as drivers take five laps in honour of Wheldon
1978 - 2011: A LIFETIME OF WINNING
IndyCar said information on a public memorial for Wheldon will be released at a later date.
Mr Wheldon is the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana was killed in practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
There were suggestions that too many cars were crammed onto the course when Mr Wheldon crashed. Thirty four were competing in all, but the oval-shaped track in Las Vegas is just 60 per cent as long as races where 33 cars are used.
Former Formula One driver Mark Blundell said after the accident that the 1.5 mile long Motor Speedway track was a 'recipe for disaster'.
Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal of McLaren, said the death highlighted 'the bitter contrast that sometimes exists between the highs and lows of motorsport.' He added: 'The motorsport world is now in mourning following Dan’s passing.'
The tragedy comes just months after Mr Wheldon won the famous Indianapolis 500 in May for the second time.
Mr Wheldon, who lived in St Petersburg, Florida, won the entire IndyCar series championship back in 2005, when he also enjoyed his first triumph in the Indy500 race.
Born in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, Mr Wheldon attended the fee-paying Bedford School and started karting at the age of four.
After an early racing rivalry with contemporary and Formula One ace Jenson Button, he left the UK in 1999 for the more lucrative racing scene in the USA.
Wheldon's first Indianapolis 500 victory was in 2005 - he passed Danica Patrick with less than 10 laps to go that year - and his win at the sport's most famed race this year was one to particularly savour.
It came in perhaps the oddest of fashions, as he was the beneficiary of a huge gaffe by someone else.
Mr Wheldon was in second place, far back of rookie J.R. Hildebrand approaching the final turn - when Hildebrand lost control and clipped the wall.
He zipped past, and the only lap he led all day at Indianapolis was the last one.
He returned to the track the next morning for the traditional photo session with the winner, kissing the bricks as his two-year-old son Sebastian sat on the asphalt alongside him, and wife, Susie, held their then two-month-old, Oliver.
Mr Wheldon was almost resigned to finishing second at Indy for the third straight year, before misfortune struck Hildebrand.
'It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis,' he said.
'That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing. You never know what's going to happen.'
Such was the case again today.
Mr Wheldon was well behind the first wave of cars that got into trouble on the fateful lap, and had no way to avoid the wrecks in front of him.
With the incredible speeds reached by the cars, there was no time to brake or steer out of trouble.
Popular: With his love of racing and golden boy looks, Wheldon was loved among followers of the sport
THE INDYCAR DRIVERS WHO DIED FOR THEIR LOVE OF SPEED
'I saw two cars touch each other up in front of me and then I tried to slow down, couldn't slow down,' driver Paul Tracy said.
'Then Dan's car, from what I saw in the videos, came over my back wheel and over top of me. Just a horrendous accident.'
Even as a former series champion and one of the sport's top names, Wheldon did not have the financial backing to secure a full-time ride for himself this season.
He kept himself busy by working as a commentator for some races and testing prototype cars that the IndyCar series will be using in the future.
IndyCar will have new cars in 2012, much of the changes done with a nod for safety.
It had been a passion of Wheldon's in recent months, and he once quipped that he was a 'test dummy' for the new cars by working with engineers as often as he was.
Mr Wheldon moved to the United States in 1999, quickly trying to find sponsor money to fund his dream, and by 2002 - after stints in some lower-profile open-wheel series, such as the F2000 championship, Toyota Atlantic Series and IndyLights - he was on the IndyCar grid for the first time.
Wheldon got his first IndyCar Series ride, in 2002, for two races with Panther Racing, then replaced Michael Andretti when Andretti retired the next season and won Rookie of the Year.
His first victory came the next season, in Japan, and he finished second in the championship standings behind Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan.
The next year, he was its champion. NASCAR teams talked to him about changing series. So did Formula One organizations.
In the end, he decided IndyCar was his calling.
'The biggest thing for me is the Indianapolis 500,' Wheldon said in 2005, not long after becoming the first Englishman since Graham Hill in 1966 to prevail at the Brickyard. 'It would be really difficult to leave this series because of that race.'
As evidenced by the difficulty in finding sponsorships this season, it was also difficult for him to stay in the series.
Even though he finished among the top 10 in IndyCar points annually from 2004 through 2010, Sunday was only Wheldon's third start of 2011.
Off the track, Wheldon had varied interests, some of which had almost nothing to do with his driving.
In 2010, he released a photo book he called Lionheart, a coffee table book that he described as 'almost like a photo biography from my career in IndyCars up until this point.'
He spent years editing the book, which included dozens of photos of his life away from the track, including images from his wedding.
'I wanted it to have a lot of my input,' Mr Wheldon said last year. 'Obviously, it's a reflection of me.'
'He was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration'
He also wanted that book to provide his fans with a glimpse of his life that they would never have known otherwise.
'There's a lot of my wedding in there,' Wheldon said.
'I wanted there to be a lot of photos of my wife. She was the most beautiful bride on her wedding day the world had ever seen.'
In a statement McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh, said: 'Dan Wheldon’s tragic death highlights the bitter contrast that sometimes exists between the highs and lows of motorsport.
'His rapid ascent to the very top ranks of US motorsport, capped by two fantastic Indy 500 victories and the 2005 Indy Car title, are the lasting legacy of a hugely talented driver and champion.
'The motorsport world is now in mourning following Dan's passing. On behalf of everyone at McLaren Mercedes, I pass on my condolences to his family and friends.'
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