IRL: Wheldon wins Rookie of the Year at Texas finale

England's Dan Wheldon has won the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title after finishing a career-best third in the final Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series race of the year at Fort Worth, Texas yesterday. Despite starting the race from a...

England's Dan Wheldon has won the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title after finishing a career-best third in the final Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series race of the year at Fort Worth, Texas yesterday.

Despite starting the race from a lowly 16th position, 25-year old Wheldon ran in the top five for most of the race and looked like a potential winner, even leading one lap.

But, with just over 20 laps to go, a big part of the equation changed. Moments after a re-start on lap 179, Wheldon's team-mate Tony Kanaan passed Helio Castroneves to move into second position behind eventual winner Gil de Ferran. As the two battled for position, Castronevesmade contact with Kanaan, cutting his left-rear tyre in the process. After an unscheduled green flag pit stop, K anaan returned to the track to finish the event, ending the day with a 14th place finish.

Dan Wheldon fared much better in the closing laps. The rookie -- from Emberton in Buckinghamshire, England -- stayed with the leaders until a late-race crash involving Kenny Brack and Tomas Scheckter brought the race to a premature close on lap 195 dueto irreparable damage to the catch-fence. Wheldon brought his No 7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara / Honda / Firestone home in third behind Gil de Ferran and Scott Dixon, who clinched the 2003 championship with his runner-up effort.

The result gave Dan Wheldon his best career finish and also delivered him victory in the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year battle.

Yesterday's Rookie of the Year award isthefourth rookie title that Dan Wheldon has won since he switched his career from Europe to the USA. In 1999 he won the US Ford 2000 series and the rookie title. The following year he was Rookie of the Year when he moved up to CART Toyota Atlantic and in 2001 he took the title again when he progressed to CART Dayton Indy Lights.

After yesterday's race, a jubilant Dan Wheldon commented:'It's fantastic. It's great for Team 7-Eleven. TheKlein-Tools / Jim Beam guys have been fantastic. That car was very good. I wouldn't say, over all, that I had the fastest car. I had a very good car in traffic, and I am just very thankful to Michael (Andretti), Kim (Green), and Kevin (Savoree) for giving me this opportunity. I think it is going to help us start off next year very well, if and when we work out a deal.'

(About winning the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title): 'It's tremendous. It's going to sinkin, I think, tomorrow!'

Tony Cotman, Team Manager, Team 7-Eleven, commented:'We had a good day. We were pretty fast all day and we hung around up front and did what we had to do to win the Rookie of the Year title. I'm proud of the job Dan has done this season and Rookie of the Year caps it off for him. I want to thank the crew and the whole team, everybody at home, for a great season and for continued success next year.'

-www.danwheldon.com-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Kenny Brack , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam