Racing driver Dan Wheldon 'a true champion'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The father of British racing driver Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a high-speed crash in America yesterday, tonight paid tribute to his son, describing him as a "true champion" and a "gentleman on and off the track".

Wheldon died after a 15-vehicle pile-up while competing in the Las Vegas Indy 300 when his car was sent flying over another and burst into flames.



The 33-year-old, who was competing for a five million US dollar prize, was taken to hospital by helicopter but died of his injuries.



Tonight his father Clive, speaking outside the family home in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, said: "The family would like to thank everyone for their overwhelming outpouring of sympathy.



"Daniel was born to be a racer and yesterday left us doing what he loved to do.



"He was a true champion and a gentleman on and off the track."







The grieving father, who was being comforted by his sons Austen, 26, and Ashley, 30, added: "He was a proud brother to Austen, Ashley, Elliott and Holly.



"He was a devoted son to Sue and myself and a loving husband to his wife."



His voice wavering with emotion, Mr Wheldon concluded his brief statement by saying: "Words cannot describe how much our family will miss him.



"He touched so many and the world is a better place because of Dan."









Earlier today, former IndyCar driver Mark Blundell said the crash that killed Wheldon was "inevitable".



Drivers reached speeds of up to 220mph, and the large number of cars - 34 - made racing on the 1.5-mile circuit even more treacherous with such narrow margins for error.



Mr Blundell told the BBC: "When things go wrong they go wrong in a big way."



He added: "It was inevitable in many ways. It was a recipe for disaster when you look at what was going on."



Motorsport legend Jackie Stewart questioned whether the race should have gone ahead at all, because the Las Vegas circuit was not designed for races with so many cars capable of such speeds.



He told Sky News: "In Las Vegas it is a 1.5-mile oval, and there were 34 cars in the field.



"I think that was too many for such a short track. There were too many cars locked up together.



"Getting through that traffic, for a driver like Dan Wheldon for example, which he was surely wanting to do, was a very precarious business."



Wheldon faced increased pressure in the event because he stood to win a five million US dollar bonus prize if he won after starting at the back of the grid.



Speaking after the crash, fellow British driver Dario Franchitti said there had been warning signs before the tragedy.



The Scotsman - who was confirmed as the IndyCar 2011 champion - said: "I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff."



Wheldon's former Andretti Green team-mate, who was not involved in the crash, said: "I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it's about."



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



In the run-up to the race, Wheldon wrote on a USA Today blog how the weekend had been "very difficult" so far.



He wrote his car did not have the speed he needed to catch up from the back of the race, and was 3mph off the pace.



"If we start the race that far off the pace, it's going to be difficult to keep up," he wrote.



But the star was determined to do his best and keep his fans entertained.



"As long as I can find some speed and keep up with the pack, I'll do everything I can to put on a show."



Wheldon also spoke of the pressure of the sport moments before the race.



He was asked by ESPN presenter Rick Debruhl if the race was twice as much pressure as the Indy 500, when Wheldon won 2.5 million US dollars in May.



The driver replied: "Honestly, I always put a lot of pressure on myself anyway, and there's a lot of history and tradition to win the Indianapolis 500. This is slightly different."



He added: "I've been excited by this event just with the build-up, but I just can't wait for the race.



"In answer to your question, I think there's pressure all the time, especially when you want to win as bad as I do."



The accident happened on the 11th lap of the race. The impact sent several cars flying through the air and smashing into the outside wall and protective fence.



With cars smouldering and debris littering the track, the race was red-flagged.



Formula One star Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Wheldon.



He said: "Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motorsport ladder in the UK.



"He was an extremely talented driver. As a British guy who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration.



"This is a tragic loss at such a young age. My heart goes out to his family and friends during this extremely difficult time."



Jenson Button said: "I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early 90s, a true fighter. We've lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy.



"I can't begin to imagine what his family are going through and my thoughts are with them at this very difficult time."



Buckinghamshire-born Wheldon, who lived with his wife Susie and two young sons, Oliver and Sebastian, in Florida, won 16 times in his IndyCar career.



He started at the back of the grid but quickly made his way through the field before the pile-up, which injured three other drivers.



His colleagues were told of his death around two hours after he was airlifted from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway track to University Medical Centre.



Wheldon becomes the first IndyCar death since American rookie Paul Dana was killed in a practice session five years ago.



Villagers in Emberton, Buckinghamshire, where the driver grew up, spoke of their sadness at his death.



Family friend Jean Garratt, who had known the star since he was four, said: "It's a terrible shock.



"He was a lovely, kind, generous chap - he never had a bad word to say about anybody."

PA

Comments