IT may have been gifted to him on the final turn, but Dan Wheldon crossed the line first to win the world famous Indianapolis 500 on Sunday – for the second time.
The Emberton racer started the IndyCar Series without a regular drive, and could not believe his luck as rookie JR Hildebrand – ironically the driver who replaced Wheldon at Panther Racing for 2011 – lost control of his car while lapping slow traffic on the final turn of the race.
The 32-year-old teamed up with former team-mate turned new team boss Bryan Herta this year in a bid to secure a regular place on the grid for 2012, but the pair agreed to race in the Indy 500 this season after getting the chassis and sponsorship in place in time.
Starting the race from sixth on the grid, Wheldon – who won the race on his way to the 2005 Indy Series championship – kept in touch with the leaders throughout the 200 lap race. His last pit-stop meant he was able to race to the end of the 500 mile blue ribboned event, and was ideally positioned as race leader Bertrand Baguette pitted with five laps remaining, promoting Hildebrand to top spot.
Entering the last lap, it looked as though Wheldon was going to finish second for the third time in as many years. But within sight of the flag, 23-year-old Hildebrand understeered into the wall at the final turn, allowing Wheldon to pass him on the final straight to take the chequered flag, before Hildebrand’s three-wheeled car crossed the line two seconds later.
“I just wanted to do everything in my power to deliver a win for – not just myself – but for such a great group of people,” Wheldon said. “With a Cinderella story we have taken on the might of Roger Penske’s organisation and Chip Ganassi.”
It’s been an incredible rise to success for Wheldon who took up karting at the age of four, before moving to the United States in 1999 to pursue a career in motor racing. And Sunday’s success is the highlight of that career.