Ollie Marriage 17 October 2011

Dan Wheldon: 1978-2011

One of the most successful British drivers in US racing history: his story

Dan Wheldon was born to race. That he died doing what he loved is small consolation to his family and friends.

The son of a keen amateur karter, Wheldon grew up in the sport, and was successful enough to have won three British Cadet Karting championships by the age of 12. Although not from a wealthy background, his early success made him an in-demand driver for the lower single-seat formulas and he progressed through Formula Vauxhall Junior, finishing the 1996 season as runner-up, and into Formula Ford.

In 1998, competing for the works Van Diemen squad, he was expected to win the championship at the Brands Hatch FF Festival, only to be denied by one Jenson Button. This inspired Wheldon to look across the Atlantic in a bid to further his career, and he wasted no time establishing a reputation.

His first taste of IndyCar came when he was just 24 with a couple of races late in 2002, and he made enough of an impression that he was asked to stand in for an injured Dario Franchitti at Andretti Green Racing the following year. His first win came at Motegi, Japan in 2004 and a year after that he won the first of his two Indy 500 victories, finishing the series as winner. His Indy 500 victory made him the first Englishman since the great Graham Hill in 1966 to win the iconic race, and he followed up in 2006 with another runner-up spot in the IndyCar series.

Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Wheldon continued with consistent placings over the next couple of seasons, enhancing his reputation as a man to watch (Top Gear magazine named him our Racer of the Year in 2004). However, for 2009 and 2010 he switched back to the smaller team that gave him his first break in IndyCar, Panther Racing. Although his placings suffered slightly, he still managed to end both seasons in the top 10, but failed to get a full time drive for the 2011 season.

But underlining his talent and ability, he secured an Indy 500 drive Bryan Herta Autosport this year, and won the race for second time. It was a fitting success for a man from Milton Keynes who embraced life and racing in the US. He is survived by his wife Susie and two sons Sebastian (2) and eight-month old Oliver.

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