F1 Champs Button, Hamilton Pay Tribute to Wheldon at BetLM

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F1 Champs Button, Hamilton Pay Tribute to Wheldon

By STEVE DOUGLAS, Sports Writer

LONDON —For­mula One cham­pi­ons Jen­son But­ton and Lewis Hamil­ton hailed fel­low Briton Dan Whel­don as a “true fighter” and an “inspi­ra­tional” fig­ure after the Indy­Car dri­ver was killed in a mas­sive crash in Las Vegas.

But­ton recalled Whel­don, who died Sun­day at the age of 33, as being a star of the British kart­ing cir­cuit in the 1990s before going on to win the Indi­anapo­lis 500 twice.

I have so many good mem­o­ries of rac­ing with Dan in the early 90s, a true fighter,” But­ton said on Twitter.

We’ve lost a leg­end in our sport but also a great guy … I can’t begin to imag­ine what his fam­ily are going through and my thoughts are with them at this very dif­fi­cult time.”

Whel­don, who was born in Buck­ing­hamshire, a county just north of Lon­don, was also an inspi­ra­tion to Hamil­ton after decid­ing to try his luck in the U.S. fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful junior career dur­ing which he won eight British kart­ing titles.

Dan was a racer I’d fol­lowed through­out my career, as I often fol­lowed in his foot­steps as we climbed the motor sport lad­der in the UK,” said Hamil­ton, Button’s team­mate at McLaren.

He was an extremely tal­ented dri­ver. As a British guy who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspi­ra­tional guy, and some­one that every rac­ing dri­ver looked up to with respect and admi­ra­tion. This is a tragic loss at such a young age.”

Hamil­ton fin­ished sec­ond in Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix, with But­ton fourth.

Whel­don died Sun­day after a mas­sive, fiery wreck at the Las Vegas Indy 300. He was involved in a 15-vehicle pile-up, his car fly­ing over another and burst­ing into flames.

Whel­don was born in the small Eng­lish vil­lage of Ember­ton and began dri­ving go-karts as a 4-year-old.

Hav­ing failed to secure finan­cial back­ing for his career in Europe, he moved to the U.S in 1999. In 2005, he became the first Eng­lish dri­ver since Gra­ham Hill in 1966 to win the Indy 500. Whel­don won the race for a sec­ond time this year.

Despite his suc­cess and star­dom in the U.S., Whel­don was rel­a­tively unknown in his home coun­try. For­mula One rac­ing grabs all the media cov­er­age in Europe, with Indy­Car receiv­ing lit­tle notice.

Whel­don had been sched­uled to com­pete next week­end at Surfers Par­adise, Aus­tralia, in the Gold Coast 600 race, team­ing with V8 Super­car cham­pion James Court­ney as a co-driver for two 186-mile tour­ing car races on Sat­ur­day and Sunday.

Five other Indy­Car dri­vers are sched­uled to com­pete on the Gold Coast, includ­ing Aus­tralian Will Power, who suf­fered back injuries in Sunday’s crash in Las Vegas.

V8 series chair­man Tony Cochrane said he expects some of the American-based dri­vers to pull out.

If any dri­ver wishes to pull out in respect, we would fully appre­ci­ate and under­stand that and be as sup­port­ive as we can,” Cochrane said Mon­day. “And we will find replace­ment dri­vers for any­one who wishes to drop out this week­end. We will cross that bridge and worry about that when we get over the ini­tial shock and deal with it in due course.”

Cochrane said a memo­r­ial ser­vice would be held on Sat­ur­day morn­ing at the Gold Coast track.

He was very much look­ing for­ward to hav­ing his first … go in a V8 Super­car this com­ing week­end,” Cochrane said. “We have just been reminded in the most tragic of cir­cum­stances what can hap­pen in motor­sport. This is ater­ri­ble day.”

Sports Writer Den­nis Passa con­tributed to this report.

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