Tragic news to report.
IndyCar officials have confirmed that Dan Wheldon has succumbed to the injuries he sustained in today’s multi-car pile-up at the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was just 33 years old.
Winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500, Wheldon was working his way up through the field and was one of the last drivers to get involved in the crash. His car was sent to the bottom of the circuit before ricocheting to the outside wall, which he hit backwards.
His car suffered severe damage to the topside, including its roll-hoop structure, and he was quickly extricated by safety officials and airlifted to the University Medical Centre in Las Vegas.
Wheldon had been without a drive for much of the season after losing his full-time seat at Panther Racing. He later took up a one-off drive with Bryan Herta Autosports for the Indianapolis 500, which he sensationally won at the final corner when race leader Hildebrand, in a cruel twist of irony, crashed out.
Seeking a return to full-time competition, Wheldon arranged to participate at the season-ending Las Vegas race, being one of the few ‘guest’ drivers entitled to a $5 million purse if he could win the race from the back of the grid. He committed to donating half of his hypothetical winnings to charity, which that makes this entire incident all the more tragic.
Wheldon had spent much of the year as a colour commentator for IndyCars as well as being the test driver for the new 2012 IndyCar chassis being developed by Dallara. It had just been announced in the lead-up to the race that he would be replacing the NASCAR-bound Danica Patrick at Andretti Autosports next year…
Wheldon was scheduled to compete at next weekend’s V8 Supercars Championship round, the ArmorAll Gold Coast 600 at Surfers Paradise, co-driving with defending series champion James Courtney in the Holden Racing Team entry.
Sensibly, officialdom has abandoned the race and the drivers will perform a five-lap salute in his honour.
It is a tragic way to end the season, and an equally tragic way for Dario Franchitti to claim his fourth IndyCar title, as a result of the accident eliminating his sole championship rival, Will Power, from the running.
We extend our sincerest condolences to Wheldon’s family.
[Image via Holden Racing Team]