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Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon

Daniel Clive Wheldon (22 June 1978 – 16 October 2011) was a British racing driver. He was the 2005 IndyCar Series champion and a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, having won the race in 2005 and 2011. Wheldon died from severe head injuries shortly after a collision during the IZOD IndyCar World Championship on 16 October 2011 at the age of 33. Daniel Clive Wheldon was born in Emberton, near Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, on 22 June 1978. He took up karting at the age of 4 with funding from his father. He progressed through the junior ranks of motor racing during his school years. Attending Bedford School until he completed his GCSEs at age 16, he frequently took time off to race. During his early career in open wheel racing, he developed a rivalry with Jenson Button before ultimately leaving the United Kingdom to race in the United States. The reasoning behind the move was that the level of investment needed to fund his racing career in the UK was beyond his family's resources. Moving to the United States in 1999, he spent several years in lower open-wheeled circuits, such as the US F2000 National Championship, the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and Indy Lights. 2002–2004 In 2002, Wheldon moved up to the IRL IndyCar Series for two events with Panther Racing as teammate to Sam Hornish, Jr. Wheldon joined Andretti Green Racing the following year, taking the spot of Michael Andretti following his retirement, and collected league Rookie of the Year honours. In 2004, he won his first IRL race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan; ultimately finishing as runner-up to teammate Tony Kanaan in the championship with three wins. 2005 He won the Indianapolis 500, and the IndyCar Series championship, in the 2005 season. His six victories in 2005 also broke the record for most victories in one season (under IRL sanction), previously held by Sam Hornish, Jr. with five. His win at Indy was the first for an Englishman since Graham Hill's victory in 1966. In November 2005, it was announced that he would be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series in 2006. Shortly after his first test with Ganassi, in February 2006, he won the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance sports car race with Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Casey Mears. 2006 He began the 2006 season by beating Hélio Castroneves by 0.0147 seconds in the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway; a sombre race due to the earlier death of Paul Dana in a practice session. Wheldon retired from the Honda Grand Prix due to contact with Sam Hornish, Jr. during a caution period. At the end of the season, Wheldon and Hornish were tied for the lead with each driver having 475 points. In the event of a tie, the driver with the most wins for that particular season is declared the champion. Hornish had four wins for the 2006 season to Wheldon's two; therefore Hornish was declared the 2006 IndyCar champion. During the 2006 season, he was offered a place in the BMW Sauber Formula One team, but declined on discovering he would not be assured a regular drive. "I do want to race in F1. When my contract expires with Chip, I'll take a serious look at Formula One." 2007 Commenting in 2007 on the perception of him as 'difficult', Wheldon said "I put everything into my racing, and I expect the same back. If I see people who aren't giving it I'm not afraid to say so but that sometimes comes out a little brash. That could be improved a little bit." He won the opening race at Homestead, dominating the event from the pole. He won again at Kansas. The season is most notable for his run in with Danica Patrick after a racing incident at Milwaukee left with a skirmish. He said of Danica, being 'feisty'. 2008–2011 On 22 June 2008 (his 30th birthday), Wheldon took his 15th career victory in the IndyCar Series after winning the Iowa Corn Indy 250 over Hideki Mutoh and Marco Andretti. He donated his winnings to help the victims of the recent tornadoes and flooding which had occurred in Iowa. Wheldon was released from his drive at Ganassi on 2 September 2008. He was replaced by Dario Franchitti. "I have enjoyed these last three seasons with Target Chip Ganassi Racing but will be moving on to pursue a very exciting opportunity for 2009", Wheldon said. This would later turn out to be a return to former team Panther Racing. Wheldon drove the Panther car to a second-place finish in the 2009 Indianapolis 500; the second Indy 500 runner-up finish in a row for the team. However, his strong start to the season faded and Wheldon failed to crack the top 10 in 7 of the last 8 races. The following year, Wheldon finished second again, this time to good friend Dario Franchitti of his former team, Chip Ganassi Racing; his second-place finish and Franchitti's win was overshadowed by Mike Conway's horrific crash. This gave Panther its third straight runner-up finish at Indy. Wheldon remained competitive all year; challenging for wins on the oval tracks. Despite strong showings with Panther Racing, Wheldon still failed to win a race during his time with the team which frustrated his bosses. This led to his sudden firing from Panther Racing and was replaced by rookie J. R. Hildebrand; leaving Wheldon without a full-time ride for the 2011 season. Wheldon attempted and won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with Bryan Herta Autosport during the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after Hildebrand hit the wall in the fourth and final turn on the final lap after trying to pass the decelerating Charlie Kimball, and slowly slid towards the finish; allowing Wheldon to pass en route to his second Indy 500 victory. This race was the fourth straight runner up for Panther Racing in the Indy 500 (Vitor Meira was runner-up in 2008). With the win, Wheldon became the first driver in Indy 500 history to win the race by leading a single lap. The National Guard pit team for Hildebrand congratulated Wheldon on his win but when Wheldon was celebrating in victory lane he heard Panther Racing's staff say that he made an illegal pass under yellow. IndyCar denied this and said that the yellow was not thrown until after Wheldon had won the race and even if it was thrown before the pass Hildebrand's car was wounded and therefore was allowed to be passed in the race. Wheldon was very emotional after the win, due to his not having a ride for the rest of the season and the news that his mother had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. It was Wheldon's first series win in three seasons, his 16th win in the IndyCar Series and what would turn out to be the final win of his racing career. Over the rest of the 2011 season, Wheldon helped IndyCar and Dallara test the new IndyCar chassis that was to debut in 2012. Death During the IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on 16 October 2011, Wheldon was involved in a 15-car accident on the 11th lap, in which his car flew approximately 325 feet (99 m) into the catchfence cockpit-first and landed back on the racing surface after his head hit a pole lining the track. The carnage and ensuing debris led race officials to almost instantly throw a red flag. Wheldon was extricated from his car by the Holmatro Safety Team and their Las Vegas-based colleagues and was airlifted to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada for his critical injuries. After interviewing the championship contenders, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard announced to the media that Wheldon was pronounced dead on arrival. He was 33 years old. Officials, after input from drivers and team owners, declared that they would abandon the race and that a five-lap, three-wide formation salute would be held in Wheldon's honour, along with his #77 displayed alone at the top of the scoring pylon. Wheldon had been the only racing driver participating in Go Daddy's IndyCar Challenge where he and a randomly selected fan would have been eligible for US$2.5 million each if he had won the race starting from last place. An autopsy conducted on 17 October 2011 concluded that Wheldon died from blunt force trauma to his head. His head suffered two distinct impacts when his vehicle was airborne; the second impact with the fence post was fatal. Wheldon's funeral was held on 22 October 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fellow drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan attended it and served as pall-bearers along with Wheldon's brothers. A day later, IndyCar held a public memorial service for Wheldon at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Wheldon was the fifth Indianapolis 500 winner to die in a racing accident the same year as winning the race, and the first repeat winner to do so. Preceding him were Gaston Chevrolet (1920), Joe Boyer (1924), Ray Keech (1929), and George Robson (1946). Aftermath After Wheldon's crash and subsequent death, Michael Andretti revealed that Wheldon had officially signed with Andretti Autosport on the morning of 16 October for a several-year deal to replace Danica Patrick beginning with the 2012 season. Andretti Autosport was the team with which Wheldon won both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in 2005. James Hinchcliffe was named as his replacement. As a result of the crash, IndyCar stated that they would no longer race at Las Vegas. Dario Franchitti, who was a close friend of Wheldon's, won the 2011 IndyCar championship since Will Power was involved in the crash; it was declared that the crash was an accident and that Franchitti would have won it had the race continued. Indy Racing League, LLC delayed all official prize-giving, choosing instead to conduct it during the annual State of INDYCAR speech in February 2012. Franchitti did not celebrate this championship win until the week after the next and in the days that followed, he said the day was the worst that he had felt. On 18 October, Dallara announced that their new chassis would be named in Wheldon's honour. The DW12, with the new bumper/nerf bar section being featured, was designed to prevent many similar single-seater crashes such as the one that killed Wheldon. The nomenclature is similar to that of the old Formula One team Ligier, whose cars were labelled JSxx in memory of Jo Schlesser after his death at the 1968 French Grand Prix. On 5 December, a charity race honouring Wheldon was held in Milton Keynes in England. The location of this race was less than 10 miles (16 km) from where Wheldon was born and raised. Notable drivers in this race included Franchitti (who took part in the race in which Wheldon was killed), Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button. All money earned by this charity race was donated to a charity chosen by Wheldon's family. Former IndyCar driver Mark Dismore's New Castle Motorsports Park, which organises the Robo-Pong 200 endurance karting event that Wheldon won in 2005, named the race trophy the Dan Wheldon Cup in 2012, and the Wheldon family added a Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am event in 2013 to the event. That race establishes the Sue Wheldon Fund in the Alzheimer's Association. The race is held after the INDYCAR season ends, and features INDYCAR stars, although a NASCAR-themed team of Paul Harraka and Ricky Rudd won the 2006 race. The Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am consists of one pro and three amateur drivers in a one-hour, 40 minute race. The inaugural race, which like fund-raising golf tournaments where "mullingans" can be purchased, has teams "buying back" laps to the Wheldon Fund during the race, ended with a controversial finish where Marino Franchitti, Scott Borchetta, Mark Borchetta (the two of Big Machine Records), and Clive Wheldon (Dan's father) were declared co-winners with a team of Taylor Kiel, Blair Julian, Adam Rovazzini, and pro Ed Carpenter. The current four-driver format consists of a race for each of the three amateur drivers, with the pros doing the anchor leg, in identically prepared rental karts provided by the circuit. The Target team of Andrew Drake, Michael Bizzell, Nathaniel Borden, and Scott Dixon (pro) won the 2015 race with a dramatic final-lap drive from fifth to first by Dixon. On 7 March 2012, Wheldon's widow Susie and Mayor Bill Foster unveiled a street sign in St. Petersburg, Florida, the city where Wheldons lived during the INDYCAR championship season and towards the end of his life. Named Dan Wheldon Way, the sign was placed at the corner of Bayshore Drive and Albert Whitted Park (turn 10 of the IndyCar circuit). This is the same spot where Wheldon made a crucial pass on Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan with nine laps remaining to win the inaugural IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2005. A permanent memorial is located across from the Dali Museum. On 25 March, the upcoming IndyCar Series season began with the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first race held since Wheldon's death. Wheldon's younger sister Holly waved the green flag to start the event. Hélio Castroneves, known for climbing fences following race victories, won and climbed the fence where the sign stood after the race. "No question about it, this is for our friend upstairs, Dan Wheldon", Castroneves said afterwards. On 27 May, the 96th Indianapolis 500 took place; the first Indy 500 without Wheldon in the field following his death. Franchitti won the race and paid tribute to Wheldon afterwards by wearing white sunglasses. "Everybody up there was a friend of Dan's, and that about sums it up. Everybody loved him", Franchitti said as bagpipes played over the public address system. "I think D-Dub would be proud of that one." In July 2013, Autosport magazine named Wheldon one of the 50 greatest drivers to have never raced in Formula One. In 2014, the Wheldons were honoured with the "Dan and Susie Wheldon Make a Difference Award". which would be $1,000 donated to charity and part of the INDYCAR prizegiving banquet annually. In 2015, Scott Dixon and family were named the winner of the award. During the 2016 Kobalt 400 NASCAR weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jamie Little, a local resident who had been the ABC pit reporter during the 2011 IndyCar Championships and now works for Fox Sports, and motorsport publicist Brent Brush placed a Dan Wheldon Memorial plaque outside Turn 2 near the point Wheldon was killed. Dan Wheldon International Driver Trophy The Dan Wheldon International Driver Trophy was awarded to the best performing international driver over the race weekend of the Australian V8 Supercars Gold Coast 600. The trophy was named after Wheldon following his death, which took place one week prior to the 2011 event in which he was scheduled to race in with the Holden Racing Team. The international drivers' trophy had been unnamed when debuted in 2010. The trophy was discontinued after 2012 as a change in regulations stated that international co-drivers were no longer compulsory in the race.
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