|Dan Wheldon was the first IndyCar fatality since Paul Dana was killed at Homestead in 2006 [Reuters]|
British driver Dan Wheldon has been killed in a massive crash at the Las Vegas 300 IndyCar series finale after his car was embroiled in a 15-car pile-up on the race track.
Wheldon, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in May, died after his car was sent airborne over another car and clipped the catch fencing during the race on Sunday.
The 33-year-old, who began IndyCar racing in 2002, was series champion in 2005 and also won the Indy 500 that year.
Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the pile-up.
Wheldon was airlifted from the track to University Medical Centre; about two hours later, his colleagues were told of his death.
“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” Randy Bernard, the IndyCar chief executive, said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race.”
In his honour, drivers took part in a five-lap salute around the oval. IndyCar has not had a fatality since Paul Dana was killed at Homestead in 2006.
He died after a crash in a morning warmup.
‘Like a movie scene’
Sunday’s wreck left smoldering cars and debris littered nearly halfway up the straightaway of the 2.4km track.
The track was red-flagged following the accidents while crews worked on fences and removed smashed cars.
Wheldon started in the back of the pack but quickly worked his way through the 34-car field before the wreck.
“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” Danica Patrick, said.
“It was debris everywhere across the whole track, you could smell the smoke, you could see the billowing smoke on the back straight from the car.
“There was a chunk of fire that we were driving around. You could see cars scattered”.
Drivers had been concerned about the high speeds at the track, where they were hitting nearly 362km/h during practice.
Their concerns became reality when contact on turn two sent cars flying through the air, crashing into each other and into the outside wall and catch fence.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ryan Briscoe said.
“The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something.
“I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere.
“So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there’s just stuff everywhere. Crazy.”
It was Wheldon’s 134th career start, but only his third of the season.
Within the close-knit motor racing world, there has been reaction to Wheldon’s death.
‘We’ve lost a legend’
Formula One driver and former world champion Jenson Button tweeted: “I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early 90’s, a true fighter. We’ve lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy”.
Two-time Formula one World Champion and Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi said “I have seen many fine men and racers leave us prematurely over my lifetime. It is an unfortunate part of our sport. Godspeed Dan Wheldon”.
Le Mans Driver Chris Bun-combe, who witnessed the accident was in shock, he said the death of the Wheldon was “terrible news here at Las Vegas speedway. Devastating to have lost fellow driver Dan Wheldon in the multi car accident”.