IRL: Dan Wheldon’s Silverstone dream

By Andy Darley

CalendarSunday, April 12th, 2009

 
 

He may have spent so long in America that he prefers gridiron to soccer, but English Indycar racer Dan Wheldon still dreams of coming home to challenge his rivals around the famous straights and corners of Silverstone.

Wheldon, a former Indianopolis 500 winner and IRL champion who will soon compete in his 100th race in the series, now lives in St Petersburg, Florida, and said in a recent Q&A session: “I guess people would say I’ve become an American.”

But, when asked what circuit he’d like to see the IRL add to its schedule, he made a brief pitch for the former Champ Car circuit at Road America in Wisconsin before suggesting the best outcome would be for IndyCar to fill the gap left by Formula One’s withdrawal from the home of British motorsport.

He said: “I love Road America. I think it’s a great racetrack. If I had to choose a racetrack that we could realistically go to, I think that would be a great one. But I’d also love the series to go to Europe.

“Formula One is not going to Silverstone any more, and I think that would be a great event. The IndyCar Series has not only grown in America, it seems to have grown a lot in Europe now with the help of Sky Sports and just with the fact that the series is becoming more and more popular.

“I think my dream race would be to be at Silverstone, but realistically I think Road America.”

Wheldon, whose early career was funded by his family, crossed the Atlantic in 1999 to compete in Formula Ford because racing in the US was more affordable than in Europe. He never looked back, making the leap to the IRL in 2002 with two races for Panther.

He won the championship and the Indy 500 in 2005, and was series runner-up in 2004 and 2006 – the latter on a tiebreak with winner Sam Hornish Jr. He turned down the chance to join BMW-Sauber later that year, and now seems to have gone completely native – asked whether he prefers American football or soccer he picked the former.

“I’ve got to say American football. I’m a big fan. I really am. I guess people would say I’ve become an American. I love soccer too, don’t get me wrong. Often when I’m back in England I’ll watch it a lot on TV, but for the most part I’m an American football fan.”

Alas for his fans over here, the chances of seeing the IRL racing at Silverstone – or anywhere else in the UK – are not great. The series visits Japan, but has dropped the one non-US race it inherited from the defunct Champ Car series, at Surfers Paradise in Australia, and looks unlikely to add more.

Even Champ Car, as it broadened its schedule to include Europe in its final years, did not visit Britain. Races took place in the Netherlands and Belgium but the UK seems not to have been considered. Earlier in the decade the series did run at Rockingham and Brands Hatch, but the events failed to put down roots.

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