There are many questions but few answers following the tragic death Sunday of Indy car driver Dan Wheldon, 33, in the season-ending IZOD IndyCar Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wheldon, 33, a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who was married and the father of two small boys, died in a grinding, multi-car crash, in which he probably didn't stand a chance of avoiding.
The announcement of his death was made shortly after 6 p.m. ET Sunday. IndyCar also cancelled the last race of the year and said the remaining drivers would circle the track five times in salute.
Cheers, whistles and applause from fans at the track greeted the cars as the drivers circled the speedway. A piper played Amazing Grace.
Three-time champion Dario Franchitti was in tears in the cockpit of his car as he prepared to join the other drivers in salute.
"IndyCar is sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Dan and his family. IndyCar, its drivers and teams have decided to end the race. We will run a five-lap salute in honor of Dan."
TRIBUTES TO WHELDON, SEE POST BELOW
Wheldon had talked to ABC announcer Scott Goodyear from his car during the warmup laps - chief announcer Marty Reid had introduced Wheldon as the network's "in-race reporter" - and when the green flag was thrown Wheldon had actually used his Twitter account to Tweet: "Green!!!"
IndyCar announced late Sunday night the cancellation of its champion's banquet at a Las Vegas resort.
Wheldon was the Indy Racing League's Rookie of the Year in 2003 and two years later was the IRL champion and winner of his first Indianapolis 500. He won the "500" a second time this year. He lived in St. Petersburg, Fla.
An Englishman by birth, Wheldon moved to the United States in 1999 after funding to support his racing career in Britain dried up. He was able to keep racing in the U.S. and was a star in Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights before he moved to the Indy car series with Panther Racing and then Andretti-Green Racing. He joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006.
Wheldon had been busy this season testing the new Dallara 2012 Indy car, which will replace the current car. He was recruited for the job after winning the "500" in May for a team made up of Sam Schmidt Motorsport and Bryan Herta Racing. He didn't have a ride for the rest of this season and worked several races as a TV analyst.
It was expected that Wheldon would drive for Andretti Autosport in 2012, to replace the departing Danica Patrick with sponsorship from GoDaddy.com, although there had not been a formal announcement.
Tony Kanaan, who was in the lead when the race was called off, was a teammate of Wheldon's at what-was-then Andretti-Green and had difficulty finding the right words to express his anguish upon learning of his friend's death.
"We know this is a dangerous sport but we don't think about it. it's what we do."
Wheldon had been racing Sunday for a $5 million bonus in a car sponsored by Toronto company Bowers & Wilkins. Bernard originally wanted five non-IndyCar Series regulars - such as NASCAR's Kasey Kahn and X-Games star Travis Pastrana - to race for the big prize but when that idea fizzled, Wheldon was recruited to start the race last and try to win it. He would split the prize with a fan, if successful.
The last Indy car driver to die at a race was Paul Dana, who was killed during a practice for the season-opener at Homestead-Miami in 2006. The race went ahead later in the day and, ironically, the winner was Dan Wheldon.
The last Indy car driver to die in a race was Greg Moore of Maple Ridge, B.C., at the California Speedway in 1999. The race continued after Moore was taken to hospital. At the Las Vegas race Sunday, Greg Moore's father, Ric, was seen hugging Franchitti, who was one of Greg Moore's best friends.
IZOD IndyCar Series official had confirmed earlier that Wheldon was transported by medical helicopter from the speedway to the LV University Medical Centre following the huge accident that resulted in the race being stopped.
Driver Paul Tracy of Scarborough told TV reporters that "about 20 doctors are working on Dan" inside the medical centre before he was taken away on the helicopter. He described the accident as a "horrendous crash."
The red flag was out for nearly two hours before the announcement of Wheldon's passing was made.
The big accident took place on the 12th lap and involved 15 cars. Wheldon, whose car flew through the air and landed upside down, appeared immediately to have been badly injured.
The 15 cars - nearly half the field - were damaged when two crashes happened almost simultaneously at speeds approaching 220 miles an hour. The largest field of the year, 34 cars, had started the race, which is more cars than start the Indy 500 on a much bigger track.
Will Power, championship contender for Penske Racing, was involved and was out of the race. This meant Franchitti, who was not involved, is the 2011 champion - his third straight for Chip Ganassi Racing and fourth in five years.
ABC reported that Power was taken to hospital later complaining of back pain.
Tracy, J.R. Hildebrand (meaning Oakville's James Hinchcliffe is the series' Sunoco Rookie of the Year as Hildebrand was the only other driver in contention), Townsend Bell, Pippa Mann, Buddy Rice, Wade Cunningham, Vitor Meira, Alex Lloyd and E.J. Viso were among the other drivers involved.
Mann and Hildebrand were sent to the hospital after receiving treatment at the infield medical-care centre. Unlike Wheldon, however, they were all - including Power - transported by ambulance or car.
Shortly after 5 p.m. ET, the drivers still in the race were summoned to a meeting where they were given the bad news. The meeting lasted for about 45 minutes and, according to one driver, there had been a discussion about continuing the race. In the end, the race was called.
When the race started earlier, Kanaan led from pole and was still in front when the race was red-flagged. Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon and Canadian Alex Tagliani were among the other drivers who escaped the crash.
Wheldon had started at the back of the field and was carving his way forward as he raced to win the bonus. He had advanced about 10 positions when the accident happened.
There were actually two crashes. Two cars appeared to touch wheels (it turned out to be Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves) and the drivers eased off the throttle momentarily. Wade Cunningham, following right behind, spun while trying to avoid them and triggered a crash that involved three or four cars.
As that happened, Vitor Meira - who was leading a pack of cars immediately behind the Cunningham crash - appeared to lose control and stacked up the rest of the cars. Wheldon didn't stand a chance and rode up and over several cars before crashing upside down into the outside wall catch fencing.
There were several flash fires.
Drivers interviewed, including Franchitti, were critical of aspects of the contest, suggesting the track was too fast for the type of cars being raced and that some of the drivers were not experienced enough to be racing at those speeds and at such close quarters.
“I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff,” Franchitti said. “I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it’s about. You saw what happened, one small mistake from somebody.”
Veteran Davey Hamilton, who survived a vicious crash at Texas Motor Speedway 11 years ago, said he would now re-think continuing to race. ``Ìt`s the worst (crash) I`ve ever seen in my career,`he said, getting emotional momentarily.
``Ìt`s sad, man.``
Hinchcliffe said the accident actually started when he and Helio Castroneves touched wheels. That resulted in Cunningham hitting the brakes and that started the first accident.
``We`ve never had a situation like this,`Hinchcliffe said, "where 34 cars are going flat out on a mile-and-a-half track. There`s zero margin of error.``
EARLIER . . .
Team Canada's driver Xavier Coupal started from pole in the final race of the British Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in England today but was punted off course in the seventh lap and was eliminated.
Coupal, who became the first Canadian to start from pole in the Festival Final, still set fastest lap of the race.
It is a truly amazing first-year effort by Ontario Formula Ford Series entrant Brian Graham Racing and major sponsor Grote Industries to award a scholarship to a deserving young Canadian open-wheel driver to enter the Festival - something that hasn't happened in Canadian racing since the 1970s.
Coupal, of the Montreal-area community of St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, won out to make the trip over two other young Canadians and was selected mainly because of his ability to be quick right out of the box, something that is essential for something like the British festival.
Coupal, and about 200 other FF runners from around the world, arrived at Brands Hatch on Friday and were given limited practice before their heats, of which there were 20 with nearly two dozen cars in each.
Coupal finished second in his heat Saturday and was in the lead in the Final before he was crashed out.
F1 driver Jenson Button and IndyCar star Danica Patrick both drew attention to themselves through their performances at the Festival - Button winning his year and Patrick finishing second hers.
VETTEL WINS KOREA; JIMMIE JOHNSON IN BIG CRASH
After wrapping up his second consecutive world championship of drivers last weekend in Japan by finishing third, Sebastien Vettel went back to his winning ways Sunday by dominating the Korean Grand Prix almost from start to finish.
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton drove his McLaren-Mercedes entry to second place and Vettel’s Red Bull-Renalt teammate Mark Webber was third to complete the podiuum.
The points earned by Vettel and Webber gave Red Bull its second consecutive manufacturer’s championship and Vettel, in his excitement on the cooldown lap, celebrated the four titles over the team radio thusly:
"Yes, yes, yes and yes again! We win! We win!"
There were suggestions that Vettel would cruise through to the end of the season, with nothing more really at stake after winning the championship with four races to go, but he took the lead from Hamilton on the first lap and went on to win by nearly 12 seconds.
As if to put an excalamation point on the 20th victory of his career and tenth of the season, Vettel set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap – a "take that" from the youngest driver (he’s 24) to ever win two consecutive world championships.
Jenson Button (McLaren) was fourth, Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) fifth, Felipe Massa (Ferrari) sixth, Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) seventh – which he got by passing Nico Rosberg (Mercedes, eighth) on the last lap – Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) ninth and Paul Di Resta (Sierra Force India) tenth.
Buemi and Di Resta were more than a minute behind the winner.
The safety car was sent out once early in the race when Vitaly Pertrov (Renault) hammered Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes from behind, putting them both out.
Said Vettel, afterward: "It was a phenomenal race, we had so much pace and it was so much fun out there. I knew overtaking Lewis near the start would be difficult and I nearly went off under braking, but he was very fair and it was important for us to get track position.
"It's difficult for everyone to imagine what winning the championship means for the factory. There is so much going on behind the scenes, every day of the year. It's down to the whole team to build two competitive cars and we push it to the limits on track.
"It was a lot of pressure off the shoulders today when I crossed the line. People now expect us to take it easy, but we are here to win and do our best. We had a chance to win today and we took it."
The F1 World Championship now goes to India for the first race in that country in two weeks, Oct. 30.
(For complete results, click here: http://www.formula1.com/results/season/2011/851/
Meantime, Jimmie Johnson’s quest for a sixth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship took a huge hit – literally – last night at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he lost control late in the race and went head-first into the outside retaining wall.
Johnson said later that it was the hardest crash he’d had in his NASCAR career.
Matt Kenseth won the race, with Kyle Busch second and Carl Edwards third.
Edwards continues to lead the championship, with Kevin Harvick second and Kenseth third.
Johnson fell to eighth in the Chase race; at one time during the race last night he was leading it.
For details and results, click here: