Ulster race aces join in mourning for IndyCar star Wheldon
AS news of Dan Wheldon’s death reverberated around the world, the impact was being felt among the Northern Ireland motor racing community.
Wheldon, who died in the final race of the 2011 Indycar season in Las Vegas on Sunday night, after an horrific 15-car crash, rose up through the British racing ranks alongside a number of Ulster drivers including Tim Mullen and Derek Hayes.
He had started his career in karts and raced at Nutts Corner back in the early 90s before graduating to racing cars.
He was runner-up in the 1996 British Formula Vauxhall Junior championship to Portadown-born Mullen and was third in the 1998 British Ford championship behind Dungannon’s Hayes in a year when Jenson Button took the title.
He was soon to follow another Ulster driver, Jonny Kane, to America and by 2003 had joined the Comber racer’s former team, Cool Green, after Kane elected to return to the UK.
Wheldon seized his chance and went on to become Indycar champion in 2005 and a double winner of one of the world’s biggest races, the Indianapolis 500.
Kane, who now concentrates on sportscar racing, was on air, providing expert analysis on the Las Vegas race for Sky Sports, when the accident happened.
Paying tribute on “an extremely sad day,” 2008 Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said: “Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I'd often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motorsport ladder in the UK.
“He was an extremely talented driver, he was also an inspirational guy and someone every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration.”
British Racing Drivers' Club president Derek Warwick described Wheldon as “one of the great talents of his generation” and said the Englishman's death was a tragic loss for the sport.
“The BRDC is extremely proud of Dan and all that he achieved and was achieving in the United States.
“Two victories in the Indy 500 put him in a very select group of drivers,” said Warwick.