Indy Car driver Dan Wheldon would have replaced Danica Patrick, who is moving to NASCAR full time, next season in the Go-Daddy-sponsored car for Andretti Autosport.
ESPN reported that Andretti Autosport, the team with which Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500, had agreed to a contract on Sunday for him to replace Patrick next season. That deal was supposed to be signed after the race, according to ESPN.
However, Wheldon died in a fiery 15-car wreck on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Lap 11 of the IndyCar Series season finale. He was 33. An autopsy is scheduled for the racer on Monday, according to reports.
IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries, IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard said when he made the official announcement. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race.
Wheldon was airlifted at 1:19 p.m. to University Medical Center. He is the first Indy Car driver to die on the track since Paul Dana died in a practice on of race day morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
Drivers paid tribute to Wheldon by doing a five-lap salute to in his honor.
Wheldon was the 2005 series champion from Emberton, England. He was competing in his third Indy Car race of the season.
He was hoping to score a $5 million bonus as part of a league promotion for driver who didn't compete full-time in the series this year. ESPN reported that Wheldon was the only driver to accept the challenge. He had a hard time putting together a full-time ride this season.
Wheldon became a part of the race because of Bernard's promise of $5 million to any driver who moonlighted and won the IndyCar season finale at Vegas. There were no takers, but Bernard refused to scrap the idea and Wheldon was declared eligible for the prize, ESPN reported.
There are no words for today, Patrick tweeted. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for suzi (Wheldon's wife) and the kids that god will give them strength.
Patrick was a part of the many drivers who drove five laps at slow speed in Wheldon's honor. Reports are that Patrick barely avoided the pile up, as was running low in the 1.5-mile oval, coming out of the second turn when one of the fiery airborne cars sailed to her right.
Formula One stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have offered tributes to Wheldon, a father of two, on their Twitter accounts.
Hamilton, 26, said it was extremely sad day and Button said he had good memories of racing with Wheldon.
Drivers reportedly were concerned about the high speeds at the track, where they were hitting nearly 225 mph during practice.
We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat. And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that's what we do, driver Oriol Servia said. We knew if could happen, but it's just really sad.