Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Wheldon Gives Team Owner a Long Awaited Gift
Considering all his accomplishments and riches, there's not much anyone can give to Michael Andretti. But Dan Wheldon managed to deliver a present that his boss will cherish forever.
In winning the 89th Indianapolis 500, Wheldon gave Andretti a victory that had eluded him in 14 starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"It's the proudest moment of my career and I'm thrilled to be able to do it for Michael after all the bad luck he's had at this place," said Wheldon, who passed Danica Patrick for the lead on Lap 191 and held off Vitor Meira before the race ended under caution.
"Michael, Kim [Green] and Kevin [Savoree] have given me the opportunity to drive for one of the best teams in auto racing and I'm more than happy to give them this win."
Andretti, who led 426 career laps at Indianapolis without making it to victory lane, was almost as delighted as if he'd been driving.
"No more talk of this stupid curse," he said. "It's going to be nice to come back here next year and not talk about that. I felt that one day this place would repay me and hopefully, this isn't the only good moment we're going to have here.
"Dan has done a brilliant job for us and I think he's going to win more of these."
In joining George Robson and Graham Hill as the other English-born victors, Wheldon started 16th, steadily worked to the front and was in the lead by Lap 150 in his Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara Honda.
"I was pretty disgusted after qualifying, but we kept working with the car and I thought I'd have a pretty good car in traffic for the race, which I did," said the 26-year-old native of Emberton, England. "It was also pretty fast by itself and it's a credit to this Andretti/Green team and Honda that they give me such a good package and they're constantly developing it.
"They gave me a car that was at its best at the end of the race, when I needed it most."
Wheldon's story is classically American. He came to this country in 1999 with a helmet and no money but got a ride and won the F2000 championship. In 2000, he finished second in the Formula Atlantic series with a pair of wins, and then was runner-up in the 2001 Indy Lights standings before landing a job as test driver for AGR in 2002.
"Kim [Green] gets credit for Dan. He had his eye on him and convinced us to hire him," said Andretti.
Wheldon tested the first Honda IRL engine in November of 2002 before his initial full-time IRL campaign in 2003, where he was Rookie of the Year. In 2004, he scored three wins and was runner-up in the points to teammate Tony Kanaan.
"I grew up watching Indy on television in England and when I first saw it live in 1999, it just opened my eyes to the magnitude of this event and how much I wanted to be here," said Wheldon.
"You couldn't ask for a better team or bunch of teammates than I have with Dario [Franchitti], Bryan [Herta] and Tony [Kanaan] and I feel lucky to be where I am today."
At present, that's sitting atop the IRL standings with his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. Not bad for a kid from the U.K.