Record breaker Wheldon takes IndyCar title to clinch double

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The Independent Online

He joins Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve, among others, as winners of the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 double. Wheldon won the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May at only his third attempt, becoming the first Englishman to accomplish this feat since Graham Hill in 1966.

"To join the list of names who have won championships and the Indy 500 in the same season's pretty special," he said. "Those are all people I respect immensely. It is a nice feeling.

"The IndyCar series is a tough series, and I think there's a ton of talented drivers here. To achieve that is a good team effort. Obviously, I've had very good cars this year and very fast cars. We have been able to win a lot of races, which is rare nowadays.

"My goal coming into this season was to win the Indy 500. When I achieved that, I had to adjust my mindset, and the goals I had for myself. Obviously, winning the championship was the next goal."

The 27-year-old Wheldon has won six races this season, breaking Sam Hornish Jr's Indy Racing League record for most wins in a season, and has posted 11 top-five finishes. He has signed a new contract which will keep him at the Andretti Green team next year, although he remains hopeful that he will compete in Formula One at some stage in his career.

Wheldon is the 25th driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the overall title in the same year, and only the fourth since 1980.

Wheldon's 2005 campaign started in style, as he took the chequered flag at Miami-Homestead Speedway. Two races later, Wheldon made history by winning the IRL's first street race at the inaugural Grand Prix of St Petersburg.

At the next race, he returned to the scene of his first career IRL win at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, and defended his title. His win in Motegi was the first time in the 10-year history of the IRL that a driver had won three of the first four races of the season.

With a firm lead in the championship, Wheldon set his sights on winning the 89th Indianapolis 500. Starting from 16th position, he roared to the front and took the double chequered flags to capture the Indy 500 victory and a record purse of over $1.5m (£850,000). It was the first time in history a driver had ever won the race from 16th.

After a consistent seven-race stint in which he posted five top-five finishes, Wheldon won at Pikes Peak, then again at Chicagoland Speedway to set the record for most wins in a season.

Wheldon's run in the IRL over the last three seasons has been remarkable. He has recorded nine wins in a 29-race stretch; the best streak in the history of the league. He is already tied with Scott Sharp for second all-time in career wins.

In less than three seasons Wheldon has progressed from a newcomer to an Indy 500 winner and an IRL champion. And he has done it in dominating fashion.

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