Dan Wheldon

Full Name:
Daniel Clive Wheldon
Born:
22nd June 1978
Emberton, Buckinghamshire
Died:
16th October 2011 (Aged 33)
Las Vegas, Nevada (USA), following an accident during the Indycar race
Nationality:
British
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Dan Wheldon was unstoppable during the 2005 Indycar season and the manner of his victory in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 was among the most dramatic in the history of the race. Engaging and popular, the Englishman was gone less than five months after that latest triumph.

Karting and early single-seater career

Success in karting when a contemporary of Jenson Button prompted Wheldon to race in British Formula Vauxhall Junior in 1996. He led the championship by mid-season but lost the title to Tim Mullen after crashing out of the final round.

Fourth in the 1997 British Formula Ford Championship with Andy Welch’s Van Diemen RF97, he was third a year later with a works Duckhams car as Button won the title. Disappointed by the lack of outright success and starved of necessary sponsorship, Wheldon looked to America to progress.

Switch to American racing

A dominant North American Formula Ford 2000 Champion in 1999, Wheldon graduated to the following year’s Toyota Atlantic Championship with PPI Motorsports. He won twice to finish as runner-up behind Buddy Rice and clinch the Rookie of the Year title. His impressive rise through America’s junior categories was complete in 2001. Wheldon’s PacWest entry won Indy Lights races at St Louis and Atlanta to again claim runner-up in the standings and rookie honours.

Indycar champion for Andretti Green

He made two Indycar starts in Panther Racing’s Pennzoil Dallara IR2-Chevrolet during 2002 and ended the year by testing Honda’s new engine for the series. Wheldon joined Andretti Green Racing in 2003 but flipped his car during the closing stages of the Indianapolis 500. However, he improved all season, finished third at Texas and won yet another rookie title.

Better was to come with Wheldon dominating from pole position at Motegi at the start of 2004. That was the first of three wins as he finished as runner-up behind team-mate Tony Kanaan. Now more than accomplished on ovals, Emberton’s finest enjoyed his best season in 2005. Early dominance culminated in that all-important drink of victory milk at Indianapolis. Team Manager John Anderson commented that his 2005 Indy 500 win was due to "the grit and drive of the guy behind the wheel." Wheldon won six times in total to clinch that year’s IndyCar Series title.

Switch to Chip Ganassi Racing

At the height of his success, Wheldon joined Chip Ganassi Racing for 2006 and began with victory in both the Daytona 24 Hours and at Homestead on his Indycar debut for the team. A contender all year, he won the season finale at Chicagoland to tie Sam Hornish Jr in the points, only losing the title due to the American winning more races.

Amid lingering rumours of a switch to NASCAR or perhaps F1, Wheldon continued with Ganassi for the next two seasons – finishing fourth both in 2007 and 2008. However, he was released to make way for Dario Franchitti’s return from NASCAR so Wheldon rejoined Panther for 2009.

Further success at Indianapolis

His National Guard Dallara IR4-Honda finished second in the Indianapolis 500 both in 2009 and 2010 but those were rare highlights of difficult campaigns. Wheldon was replaced by American rookie J.R.Hildebrand for 2011 and faced up to a year on the sidelines.

He returned for a one-off at Indianapolis and was on the pace all month for Bryan Herta Autosport. Second as he entered the last lap, he inherited victory when Hildebrand crashed in the final corner. With it, Wheldon became the first driver to win the Indy 500 by only leading the final lap.

The rest of the season was spent testing Dallara’s 2012 car before Wheldon accepted the offer to race for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the season finale on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Speedway. Organisers offered a $5m bonus to any non-regular driver to win and the race attracted a 34 car grid.

With a contract to return to Andretti in 2012 signed that morning, Wheldon was running 24th on lap 11 when Wade Cunningham’s Dallara spun in Turn 1 and triggered a shocking 15-car accident. Wheldon was launched into the catch fencing and sustained head injuries from which he died in hospital.

A father of twin sons in 2009, the cocky, raw charger had matured into a respected rival who was one of the best oval racers in the business.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
2011 IZOD IndyCar Series
Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Bryan Herta Autosport
2 (1) 0 1 1
50% win rate
28th 75
2010 IZOD IndyCar Series
Panther Racing
17 0 3 0
0% win rate
9th 388
2009 IRL IndyCar Series
Panther Racing
17 0 1 0
0% win rate
10th 354
2008 IRL IndyCar Series
Chip Ganassi Racing Team
17 0 4 2
12% win rate
4th 492
2007 IRL IndyCar Series
Chip Ganassi Racing Team
17 1 6 2
12% win rate
4th 466
2006 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series
Chip Ganassi Racing Team
1 0 1 1 0
2006 IRL IndyCar Series
Chip Ganassi Racing Team
14 2 7 2
15% win rate
2nd 475
2005 IRL IndyCar Series
Andretti Green Racing
17 0 9 6
36% win rate
1st 628
2004 IRL IndyCar Series
Andretti Green Racing
16 2 11 3
19% win rate
2nd 533
2003 IRL IndyCar Series
Andretti Green Racing
14 0 1 0
0% win rate
11th 312
2002 Indy Racing League
Panther Racing
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
36th 35
2001 Dayton Indy Lights Championship
PacWest Lights
12 0 7 2
17% win rate
2nd 149