LAS VEGAS — Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific crash during Sunday’s IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard made the announcement at 6 p.m. Eastern Time.
Wheldon was driving one of 15 cars that were involved in a fiery massive crash between Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 12 that also involved Team Penske’s Will Power, who was attempting to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. Power’s car went airborne and slammed into the wall and the pavement giving Dario Franchitti his third-straight IndyCar championship and fourth in as many attempts. Power was also transported to University Medical Center after complaining of back pain.
As for Wheldon, his car landed upside down with the roll hoop broken off the top of his car. Wheldon, who scored his second Indy 500 victory on May 29, was unconscious when safety workers arrived at the scene of his crash. A yellow tarp was quickly placed over his car to block the others from seeing the damage inside Wheldon’s cockpit.
The red flag was displayed by IndyCar Series officials stopping the race. All the drivers who are left in the race have been ordered to a Driver’s Meeting by IndyCar Series officials.
The crash was triggered when Wade Cunningham’s car hit James Hinchcliffe’s rear wheel, which caused Cunningham to slow down. Rookie driver J.R. Hildebrand’s car slammed into the right rear of Cunningham’s car launching it into the air. That triggered a massive, fiery crash that also involved drivers Townsend Bell, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Charlie Kimball, Paul Tracy, E.J. Viso, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann and Buddy Rice.
Fourteen of the 15 drivers involved are out of the race. The SAFER Barrier, Tire Fence and racing surface sustained damage from the crash leading to a red flag that has currently exceeded two hours.
“In this kind of racing there is not much room for error,” Cunningham said. “I’m not thrilled about it. But it is what it is and at this point it’s kind of immaterial because there are some people hurt in there. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for everyone in the accident.”
Entering the race drivers feared that at 225 miles per hour and with a track so smooth and so wide it was “too easy” for all the cars on the track meaning the bad cars and drivers could keep up with the good cars and drivers in the race. That made it potentially dangerous because it would be “Pack Racing.”
“A lap around this joint because it’s so brainlessly easy flat, but what it did do is put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy,” Power said on Friday. “That’s very tough. The race around here is going to be really difficult because it’s going to be such a pack race, and that’s what manufactures it’s a track that’s so easy to drive, it manufacturers really tight knit racing, which is really quite intense.
“There is no real strategy. It’s going to be three-wide and I don’t see the pack stringing out much at all. We’ll have to play it the best we can to stay out of trouble. This oval racing when you are flat-out 100 percent is kind of ridiculous.”
After the cars were brought onto pit road the drivers left in the race climbed out and tried to discuss what had happened.
“It was just a chain reaction and everybody slowed down, got bunched up again and there were more crashes that started behind it,” 2008 Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said. “It’s unfortunate because everybody knew it was going to happen. You could see from Lap 2 people were driving nuts. It doesn’t even matter the speeds – you can’t touch with these cars. I was in the middle of that one and it was pure luck that I wasn’t in it.”
A few laps before that crash Alex Tagliani and Ryan Briscoe made contact on the race track at speed but both were able to continue without crashing.
“I don’t know what happened, I was going down the back straight holding a straight line but when he hit me it turned my car and it moved up,” Briscoe said. “He almost drove me onto the apron on the first lap of the race, too. When I came around and saw this crash it was horrifying.
“It was like driving through a War Zone.
“We all predicted something like this would happen. It was inevitable. Everyone can run so close at the moment. These open-wheel cars there is no room for error. It’s exciting and thrilling when it all goes well.”
Briscoe’s teammate, Power, as attempting to win the championship as he entered Sunday’s race 18 points behind Franchitti.
“The first thing you are concerned with is how everybody is; not just your guy,” said Team Penske president Tim Cindric. “We saw Will get out of the car so that was the first indication we had that he was OK. It’s very disappointing to not even get a shot at the title today. We’ll just try to get a shot at it again next year.”
But with cars running at 225 miles per hour on a 1.544-mile oval, 34 cars may have been too many to put into competition in this race.
“I don’t think anybody can predict this,” Cindric said. “Racing is what we do. The more cars we have the healthier the series is. It’s unfortunate this happened. Racing is inherently a dangerous sport. That’s the thrill of why these guys do it, why we do it and why it’s entertaining to watch – the unpredictable nature of it. We’ve all seen days like this before – we just hope they are minimized.”
As for Franchitti, it’s a championship he cannot celebrate.
“You know I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it’s about,” Franchitti said. “I said before we even tested here that this was not a suitable track for us and we’ve seen it today. You can’t get away from anybody. There’s no way to differentiate yourself as a car or a driver. People get frustrated and go four-wide and you saw that happened.”