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Wheldon Jr hailed as big talent by team boss after winning debut

The boss of the team with which the 15-year-old son of Dan Wheldon made a winning debut on the IndyCar support ladder has hailed the youngster as a big talent.

Sebastian Wheldon

Photo by: Gavin Baker

Sebastian Wheldon, who was two years old when his IndyCar champion father was killed in the tragic Las Vegas race in 2011, won two of the three races in last weekend’s opening round of the USF Juniors series at NOLA Motorsports Park, and was second in the other.

Wheldon, who along with younger brother Oliver is a protege of Andretti Global, took his first single-seater racing steps last year in the centrally run Skip Barber school series, before joining the VRD Racing team of expat Brit Dan Mitchell over the winter.

“He did a test with us in December, and they signed with us in January,” Mitchell told Autosport.

“I think we were the obvious choice for them, and we managed to get the deal done with Andretti to move forward.

“As soon as we put him in the car with us in December, we knew he was a very good talent.”

Wheldon immediately was a race winner with VRD in the YACademy winter series for F4 cars, before lining up on the grid for USF Juniors – the lowest rung on the IndyCar support ladder, which uses a lower-spec version of the same base Tatuus chassis/Mazda engine machine from the senior USF2000 and USF Pro 2000 categories.

“NOLA was his first ever ‘sanctioned’ race,” explained Mitchell. “Skip Barber is a great learning platform, and in YACademy he did very well.”

With qualifying split into two groups at NOLA, Wheldon shared pole position honours with British ex-Ginetta Junior/GB4 ace Liam McNeilly – racing for the Jay Howard Driver Development team – and it was this duo who fought in the races.

McNeilly won the second race, while Wheldon’s VRD team-mate Max Taylor was also involved in the scrap for victory in the finale.

Sebastian Wheldon

Sebastian Wheldon

Photo by: Gavin Baker

“Seb did really well,” said Mitchell. “McNeilly got the cooler group for qualifying on the first day and he got pole; on the second day Seb got the cooler group and he got pole.

“Seb was probably a bit stronger on the second day, and he should and could have all won all three races across the two days. In race two he had his first experience of aero wash – he applied pressure [to McNeilly] but it wasn’t easy, and it was too late.

“In the final race he started third but got up to first pretty quickly, and his team-mate did hound him at the end and put him under pressure.

“He’s right there, honestly. He’s very, very determined, and he really gives us a hard time.

“He’s first into the debrief room and he’s the last to leave, and he’s constantly chasing his engineer. He’s the same with his coach, and that’s where he’s finding his speed.

“When the deal was being done with us, he was on the phone to his manager three times a day asking how it was going!”

It is unclear whether Wheldon could be in a position to transition to Europe via Atlanta-based VRD’s UK arm in the GB3 Championship, which is run in collaboration with Arden.

Such a step could make sense in light of comments from Andretti Global partner Dan Towriss about the team’s ambitions in FIA F2 and F3.

Floridian Nikita Johnson is already undergoing a joint programme this season with VRD in GB3 – once he has celebrated his 16th birthday next month – and USF Pro 2000, in which he won two more races at NOLA last weekend to move into the series lead.

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