Wheldon Happy with IRL, for Now

Dan Wheldon grew up idolising former Formula One Champion Ayrton Senna, but racing's first British winner of the Indianapolis 500 in nearly 40 years is happy driving on the Indycar circuit - for now

Wheldon Happy with IRL, for Now

Wheldon, who won for the fourth time in five races this season with his Sunday triumph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told reporters on Tuesday the IRL series was getting bigger and better and remained a challenge.

"It's been a very good season so far," Wheldon said with a touch of understatement.

The Briton's Indy 500 victory for Andretti Green Racing was worth $1.5 million and gave him a commanding lead by 234 to 162 points over team mate and defending series Champion Tony Kanaan of Brazil.

"I have a feeling it's going to get more and more difficult," Wheldon added. "The competition level in the series now is absolutely ridiculous, it's so close."

Boosted by interest in 23-year-old Danica Patrick, who became the first woman driver to lead the race on her way to a fourth-place finish for the Rahal-Letterman team, ratings for the U.S. TV broadcast shot up 40 percent from last year.

"We had a much bigger audience than the NASCAR race," Wheldon, 26, said. "The majority of Indycar drivers are quite young, and have been with teams for a few years. The fan base is growing.

Absolutely Packed

"Every time we go back to a track there's more and more people. At Indy, it was absolutely packed. I think you're going to see the schedule perhaps expand and take us to even more adventurous places."

Wheldon said he had no interest in NASCAR, but would not rule out a future switch to Formula One.

"It would have to be the right opportunity," said the Englishman, who has raced in the United States since 1999. "You've got to give yourself a chance, to maintain a level of consistency.

"I'd want it structured right and to do it properly, with a team capable of scoring points." He then added: "I do enjoy what I'm doing right now a lot."

Wheldon became the first Briton to claim the coveted Indy crown since Jim Clark and Graham Hill won the famous U.S. race in 1965 and 1966, respectively.

The driver, who hails from Emberton in England, said there had been a lot of positive feedback from the land of his birth since his Indy win.

Within five minutes of crossing the finish, he discovered his mobile phone had 59 voice messages including 40 from England.

"I'm very proud right now," Wheldon told reporters on a whirlwind victory tour in New York that took him to cable sports network ESPN for interviews, appearances on morning TV talk shows and to Shea Stadium to throw out the first pitch at a Mets baseball game.

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Series IndyCar
Author Larry Fine
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