Dan Wheldon, the young English driver who is making a big impression on the American racing scene, steps up to the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship this season -- just one rung below his goal of a CART FedEx Champ Car Series drive in 2002. He starts his 2001 campaign with testing next Monday, 12th February, at Sebring in Florida.
Wheldon has signed a one-year deal with the Indianapolis-based PacWest Racing team -- the organisation which won last year's CART Dayton Indy Lights series with New Zealander Scott Dixon who has now graduated to PacWest's Champ Car team.
22 year-old Wheldon, who is regarded by many as one of the most talented young drivers in the business today, had an impressive run in another major CART developmental series last year -- Toyota Atlantic -- which brought two wins, four pole positions, seven podiums, and the 'Rookie of the Year' title. Having won the US F2000 Championship and been 'Rookie of the Year' in 1999, Dan is looking for a hat-trick of 'Rookie' awards by the end of this season.
"I couldn't be more pleased to be joining an organisation like PacWest," said Wheldon. "They have always been one of the most professional teams in auto racing, and this is really an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Last year I was able to watch Scott's (Dixon) success, and now I'll be able to step into his car and try to defend PacWest's title. I would like to thank PacWest and Paul 'Ziggy' Harcus for their confidence in me, and I can assure you I will not disappoint."
Like many before him, Wheldon started his racing career in karts. He won the Cadet Kart Grand Prix, before winning the overall series championship in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Wheldon received a special award for winning three consecutive British Kart Championships - a record that still stands today.
He graduated out of the Cadet series after the 1990 season, but remained in karting. He won the British Junior Kart Championship series in 1993 before moving on to Formula 'A' Karting in 1994. Just one year later, Wheldon won the FIA Ayrton Senna Memorial World Cup Championship and moved on to open wheel racing.
An impressive 2nd place finish in the British Formula Vauxhall Junior Championship in 1996 brought the opportunity to move up to the British Formula Ford Championships in 1997 and 1998 where Dan finished 4th and 3rd respectively.
In 1999, Wheldon made a bold Transatlantic career move and competed in the US F2000 series where he drove his way to six victories, five poles, and eleven podium appearances en route to winning the 'Rookie of the Year' award and the Championship.
"I can't think of a finer choice to replace Scott Dixon than Dan Wheldon," said Harcus, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights Top Team Player Award winner. "Dan has obviously shown his ability to drive a racecar competitively, and we're looking forward to having him in a PacWest car this season. His history is very impressive, and I have no doubt that he will contend this year, especially with the top-notch crew that we have at PacWest."