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Rediff.com  » Sports » Wheldon bids farewell to the world in a fiery crash

Wheldon bids farewell to the world in a fiery crash

Last updated on: October 17, 2011 12:35 IST

Wheldon bids farewell to the world in a fiery crash

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Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a fiery crash in Las Vegas on Sunday, 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.

Wheldon dies in crash

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.

In 2002, he was called up to IndyCar as a test driver, racing in two events, and got a full-time drive with the Andretti team the next season.


Image: Dan Wheldon
Photographs: Getty Images
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Wheldon played with the idea of moving to Formula One

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In 2003, he was named rookie of the year. The following season, he won three races and finished second in the championship.

The Englishman won the title in 2005 and his first Indy 500 that same season, and almost won a second title in 2006 despite switching teams. He finished level on points with Sam Hornish but lost the title to the American on a countback.

Wheldon flirted with the idea of moving to Formula One and was offered a drive with the BMW Sauber team but turned it down when he was not guaranteed a permanent seat.

He changed teams to Panther Racing in 2009 and did not win a race in either the 2009 or 2010 seasons, although he finished runner-up at Indianapolis both times.

Wheldon was replaced at Panther this season by JR Hildebrand, a young rising star, and did not have a regular drive though he signed a deal to drive with the Bryan Herta Autsport team for the Indy 500.

Hildebrand looked set to win the race but crashed on the last bend, allowing Wheldon to slip past him and triumph for the second time. He was only the 18th man to win the race more than once and the second Briton, after Dario Franchitti.


Image: Dan Wheldon
Photographs: Getty Images
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Condolence messages keep pouring in

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Wheldon lived in Florida and was survived by his wife and their two young sons.

British driver Dario Franchitti, a four-time IndyCar series champion said, "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 ..."

"Right now I'm numb and speechless. 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.

"We put so much pressure on ourselves to win races and championships and today it doesn't matter."

Andretti Autosport said in a statement, "Dan was an Indy 500 champion and IndyCar Series champion with Andretti Autosport -- and one of our closest competitors.

"Dan brought such enthusiasm and passion to the sport not often seen in motorsports. We will remember Dan's tremendous racing accomplishments with our team as well his infectious personality.

"We would like to express our deepest sympathy to Dan's family, racing team and friends today. Dan is one of IndyCar's greatest champions."

Danica Patrick, IndyCar driver with Andretti Autosport later added, "There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for Susie (Wheldon) and the kids that God will give them strength."


Image: Dan Wheldon of England, holds son Sebastian alongside wife Susie holding Oliver, with the Borg Warner Trophy
Photographs: Getty Images
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