Dan Wheldon has done a lot of driving in the last month-and-a-half but, this Saturday evening, he will strap into the No 26 Klein Tools / Jim Beam Dallara / Honda / Firestone for a 'night race' at Texas Motor Speedway and truly begin his Indy...
Dan Wheldon has done a lot of driving in the last month-and-a-half but, this Saturday evening, he will strap into the No 26 Klein Tools / Jim Beam Dallara / Honda / Firestone for a 'night race' at Texas Motor Speedway and truly begin his Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series season.
Although Saturday's Bombardier 500 will be Wheldon's third official start of the year, it will be his first 'normal' start. He debuted with Andretti Green Racing in a substitute role for the injured Dario Franchitti at the Indy Japan 300 in April and then went on to run the Indianapolis 500.
The spectacle surrounding the Indy 500 would make it tough on any driver, but 24-year old Wheldon handled it well. He was consistently fast all month and never ran outside the top half of the field during the race before a single-car accident 14 laps from the end left him classified with a 19th place finish.
Beginning with this Saturday night's race at Fort Worth, Texas, Englishman Wheldon -- from Emberton in Buckinghamshire -- will be supported by the crew that used to service Michael Andretti, who retired following the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500. With Andretti moving into the ownership role full-time, his engineers and mechanics made the move to the Klein Tools / Jim Beam team.
'I'm really looking forward to the race in Texas,' said Wheldon.'It is going to be special for me because it is my first race with Michael's old crew and it is important for the Klein Tools / Jim Beam car to do well. I've raced at Texas before (October 2002) and we tested there last month, so we have some good data to build on. There are still things we need to improve, but I'm sure (race engineer) Eddie (Jones) and the rest of the engineering staff are already ahead of me on that.
'We had a really good month in Indianapolis and it gave me a lot of confidence heading into the rest of the season. I'm excited to be racing the rest of the year and I know I have some great team-mates who will help out along the way.'
Although he is the youngest member of Andretti Green Racing, Dan Wheldon may bring the most Texas Motor Speedway experience to the team. Wheldon most recently logged one day of testing time there in mid-May, but also competed in the final IRL race of the 2002 season (with Panther Racing as team-mate to Sam Hornish Jr), posting a 15th place finish.
Despite having only contested two IndyCar Series races so far this season, Dan Wheldon already lies third in the 2003 Bombardier Rookie Points and is looking to add to the three consecutive Rookie of the Year titles he won in US Formula Ford 2000 (in 1999), CART Toyota Atlantic (in 2000) and CART Dayton Indy Lights (in 2001).
Qualifying for the Bombardier 500 will take place tomorrow (Thursday) at 9:45 pm (EDT). The race is set for Saturday at 8 pm (EDT) and will be broadcast live on ESPN.