US & Canada

Wheldon crash: Motorsport stunned by darkest day

Two cars collide on IndyCar's Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Image caption IndyCar race organisers are trying to find out what caused the pile-up

The debris that littered the Las Vegas Motor Speedway had been cleared away a day after one of IndyCar racing's worst ever accidents.

A few fans were paying their respects and seeing for themselves the spot where Dan Wheldon, one of the biggest names in American motorsport, died.

Fifteen out of 34 drivers were caught up in the horrendous crash which sent burning racing cars flipping and sliding off the track.

The media trucks parked up overlooking the circuit were focused on the corner where just 13 laps into a 300-lap race a $5m (£3.2m) challenge came to an abrupt end.

The digital signboard at the entrance to the speedway made a simple tribute to Wheldon.

He was this year's winner of IndyCar's biggest prize, the Indy500 race, which he won for a second time.

Wheel to wheel

It was all the more remarkable as this season the 33-year-old Englishman had been driving part-time, and the grand finale at Las Vegas was his chance to win big money.

As part of a promotion, he started at the back of the field and would split the $5m pot with a lucky fan - if he could pass every car on the track and take the chequered flag.

He was making good progress when two cars ahead of him collided.

At more than 230mph (370 km/h), a second later it became a mass pile-up.

One of those involved in the crash was Tomas Scheckter, the son of former Formula 1 champion Jody Scheckter.

His father was at the race and described the horror of watching the huge pile-up from a long distance away and not knowing whether Tomas was safe.

"I had the headset on, patched through to his communication and I didn't hear anything," he said. "Then I heard him say someone had hit him in the back and I knew he was OK.

"I've always wanted him to give it up, but I've got to persuade him now to stop as it's the most dangerous form of motor racing - I think it's too dangerous."

Image caption Wheldon leaves a wife and two young sons

Jody Scheckter, who won the 1979 Formula 1 championship for Ferrari, said it wasn't just that the Las Vegas track was fast.

He believes the rules about the aerodynamic wing settings on the cars adds to the danger.

He criticised the heavy amount of downforce allowed, which encourages the drivers to go faster.

"Everyone is driving with their foot flat to the floor all the time," he said.

"You have got 34 cars travelling at 230 miles an hour, wheel to wheel. Anyone makes a mistake, that's what happens.

"The weaker and stronger drivers are together all bunched up. It was an accident waiting to happen."

He said the banked, oval circuit was much more dangerous than Formula 1, with speeds continuously faster.

"I don't think there's been a crash in any type of racing as bad as this," he added.

Other drivers had expressed their fears over the race, which they knew would be fast, on the smaller Las Vegas track.

After the crash the circuit was cleared and the race abandoned.

The remaining cars did five slow laps of honour in Dan Wheldon's memory, as bagpipes played Amazing Grace.

It was an emotional moment for many of the drivers.

Dan Wheldon leaves a wife and two young sons.

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