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Wheldon began competitive karting at the age of eight and achieved early success, before progressing to open-wheel car racing in the U.S. F2000 National Championship, the Toyota Atlantic Championship and Indy Lights. He began driving in IndyCar with Panther Racing in 2002. The following year, Wheldon moved to AGR, finishing as runner-up in the 2004 championship. He won the drivers' title in 2005 with the record for most victories (including that year's Indianapolis 500) during a season. In the 2006 season, he moved to CGR, tying Sam Hornish Jr. in points but finishing second because of count-back on the number of victories taken by both drivers. During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Wheldon's form lowered but he won four additional races to place fourth overall in both years.
He returned to Panther Racing for the 2009 and 2010 seasons, failing to win a race but taking a further four podium results during this period. Wheldon left the team at the conclusion of the season. He drove part-time for Bryan Herta Autosport and later Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the 2011 season. He won his second Indianapolis 500 in May of that year. At the season-ending IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Wheldon was killed in a collision with a fence post alongside the circuit on the race's eleventh lap. He was 33 years old and the first driver to die in IndyCar competition since Paul Dana in 2006.
Wheldon began go-kart racing at the age of four but did not partake in competitive racing until he was eight due to age limits. He drove a self-built 60cc kart during the intervals before switching to a 100cc kart later on. Wheldon was inspired by racing driver Nigel Mansell, and he was sponsored by All Kart owner Bruno Ferrari and his father helped to better his son's driving ability at Rye House Kart Circuit. He won the RAC British Cadet Karting Championship three times in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Wheldon went on to win the British B Junior title driving a Wright chassis in 1992. He was later advised by Mark Rose and Terry Fullerton as he progressed to the international level. Wheldon won the 1995 FIA Formula A World Cup with Fullerton's team. Aged 17, he progressed to car racing, competing in the Formula Vauxhall Junior Championship for Team JLR in 1996, winning the Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Oulton Park races and taking seven top-three results to finish second overall.
The lack of sponsorship prevented him from starting the season though he was called up to drive when regular driver Dario Franchitti broke his vertebrae in a motor bike accident in Scotland. In his first race driving the No. 27 Dallara IR-03 Honda HI3R V8 car, at the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, Wheldon qualified fifth and finished the accident-shortened race seventh. Wheldon qualified fifth for his first Indianapolis 500. Late in the race, he struck a concrete retaining wall and somersaulted into the air before landing upside down, which relegated him to finishing 19th. After Franchitti returned, Wheldon was retained as a driver following the retirement of team owner and mentor Michael Andretti. He drove well thereafter with another eight top-ten finishes. Starting tenth at Chicagoland Speedway, Wheldon led for a season-high 38 laps and came fourth. He ended the season finishing third at Texas Motor Speedway, scoring 312 points for 11th in the point standings. Wheldon's performances enhanced his reputation, and he demonstrated an accord with oval track racing that many European drivers lacked. He was awarded the 2003 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, and was voted the 2003 Autosport Rookie of the Year.
Wheldon returned to AGR for the 2004 season. At Phoenix International Raceway, the season's second race, Wheldon won his first career pole position and finished third. He took his first series win at Twin Ring Motegi, leading an event-high 192 laps from pole position. Wheldon qualified second for the Indianapolis 500; he led 26 laps to finish the rain-shortened race third. His second win of the season came at Richmond International Raceway after holding off Team Penske's Hélio Castroneves on the last lap. Wheldon took four top-ten finishes in four of the next six races, before achieving his third series victory in Nazareth Speedway's final motor race to move into second in the drivers' championship. His title challenge to his teammate Tony Kanaan ended in the season's penultimate round at California Speedway, but secured second overall from Buddy Rice at the season-ending Texas Motor Speedway race with 533 points.
After the season, Wheldon left Panther Racing because of a lack of sponsorship and the No. 4 car was driven by rookie J. R. Hildebrand. He filed a $383,400 lawsuit against Barnes in Marion County Superior Court on 18 August for late payment of his salary and of his share of earnings from his on-track achievements as well as taxation issues. The two reached a settlement on 1 October. Wheldon did not have a full-time seat for the 2011 season, and he missed the season's first four races as he sought employment with another team to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Talks with several teams, including with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing co-owner Robbie Buhl to share a car with Mike Conway fell through. He then spoke to his friend and former AGR teammate Bryan Herta who offered to assemble a car from his own low-budget operation, Bryan Herta Autosport (BHA), for Wheldon and he agreed. He drove a Dallara car from 2003 leased to Herta by BHA's technical partner Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Curb-Agajanian Motorsports. He qualified in sixth place; in the race, Wheldon was in second place on the final lap when Hildebrand crashed leaving turn four. He took the lead to become the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 leading only the final lap.
Wheldon made his endurance racing debut at the 2005 24 Hours of Daytona, sharing the No. 2 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford DP03 with Dario Franchitti, Marino Franchitti and Milka Duno in the Daytona Prototype (DP) class. Their car finished 16th in its class and 33rd overall after Duno crashed with less than six hours to go. In the 2005 off-season, he competed as a wild card entrant in the 2005 Race of Champions, being eliminated from the round of 16 by Sébastien Bourdais. That year, he was offered a test driver role with BMW's Formula One squad by team principal Mario Theissen. He declined when he discovered that he would not be assured a race seat for the 2007 season; he also felt emotionally attached to the United States. Wheldon also turned down an offer to compete for Great Britain in the inaugural A1 Grand Prix season.
IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard set up a challenge for the season-ending 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on 16 October. A prize of $5 million would be divided equally between a driver and a randomly selected fan if the driver won from the back of the grid. He was unable to get an international racing driver so he offered the challenge to Wheldon who accepted. He was frustrated about his car being more than 3 mph (4.8 km/h) slower than others and felt it would be difficult to remain with the pack if the issue was not resolved. Wheldon was also ABC's in-race reporter and spoke in defence of his participation in the event and IndyCar to the network's commentary team during the warm-up laps. On lap 11 out of the planned 200, a fifteen-car accident occurred between turns one and two in which Wheldon was involved. The accident began when James Hinchcliffe was clipped by Wade Cunningham. Cunningham and J. R. Hildebrand then made contact when Cunningham swerved and Hildebrand drove over the rear of his car. Hildebrand's car became airborne and Cunningham collected Jay Howard on the inside and then Townsend Bell on the outside before crashing into the wall. Attempting to avoid the crash ahead, Vítor Meira lost control, spinning inward collecting both Charlie Kimball and E. J. Viso. At the same time Meira lost control, Tomas Scheckter was also attempting to avoid the first crash by rapidly slowing down on the outside. This led to Paul Tracy crashing into the back of Scheckter and a rapidly approaching Pippa Mann to launch over the top of Tracy after jerking to the outside to avoid crashing into Alex Lloyd. Wheldon was in 24th and travelling on the left-hand side of the track at 224 mph (360 km/h) in an attempt to avoid the pile-up and flying debris. Meira, Kimball and Viso blocked Wheldon's path, and he decelerated to 10% of throttle usage before he hit the left-rear tyre of Kimball's car at 165 mph (266 km/h). He was launched semi-airborne for approximately 325 ft (99 m) and rotated towards the right-hand side catchfence.
Three days after the accident, series' organisers with assistance from the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States, the United States' national governing body of motor racing, and motorsport's world governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, began subjecting the race to a full investigation. The results of the investigation into Wheldon's death were released on 15 December 2011. According to the report, there was no single cause for Wheldon's crash. Contributing factors included the catchfence around the track, and the unlimited track movement while racing that increased contact between cars, making it difficult to predict what would occur around the drivers, and increased the likelihood of a major accident. \"Whilst several factors coincided to produce a perfect storm, none of them can be singled out as the sole cause of the accident. For this reason it is impossible to determine with certainty that the result would have been any different if one or more of the factors did not exist.\" 153554b96e