Wheldon Staying Put
October 30, 2003 | 12:39 P.M. EST
Wheldon, a 25-year old native of Emberton, England, began 2003 as a test driver for Andretti Green Racing and competed in the final 14 races of the IndyCar Series season, 12 of those behind the wheel of the Klein Tools/Jim Beam car. He compiled five top-five and nine top-10 finishes during the season, including a stretch of three consecutive top-fives and a league-leading six-straight top-10s to end the year. That run helped propel Wheldon in his bid to become the 2003 IndyCar Series Rookie-of-the-Year, a title he secured with a third-place finish in the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12.
"I am very pleased that we have re-signed Dan Wheldon," said Michael Andretti, who owns the team along with partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. "We laid a lot of expectations on Dan when he came to Andretti Green Racing and it was gratifying to see him excel and achieve so much in 2003. Winning another Rookie-of-the-Year title was important to him and now he's focused on contending for the series championship. He finished the year as strong as anybody in the series. I'm looking forward to seeing him get back on the race track in a few months, picking up where he left off and getting what I’m sure will be the first of many wins for us."
Wheldon has captured four consecutive Rookie-of-the-Year titles, including this year's IndyCar Series honor. He netted both the championship and Rookie-of-the-Year in 1999 in the U.S. F2000 Series, the Rookie-of-the-Year title in CART’s Toyota Atlantic championship in 2000 and top rookie accolades in the 2001 Dayton Indy Lights Series. Over that three-year stretch, Wheldon drove to the winner’s circle 10 times and posted 25 podium finishes.
"I'm very excited to continue with Andretti Green Racing," said Wheldon. "This season was a great opportunity for me and I’m very proud of what the entire Klein Tools/Jim Beam team accomplished. My rookie year was very challenging, but we made the most of our opportunities.
Now I’ve got some experience under my belt and I know what to expect, so I'm looking forward to having a strong season." Wheldon’s signing comes on the heels of the team’s sponsorship renewal with his co-major backers, Klein Tools and Jim Beam, which Wheldon sees as a strong endorsement of what his team achieved in less than a full season.
"Both Klein Tools and Jim Beam are very big, successful companies," said Wheldon. "They feel like family to me and that makes my job on the race track so much easier. I'm very proud to drive the Klein Tools/Jim Beam car and I’m looking forward to great success with them, and am also looking forward to working with everyone at Honda again in 2004."
Honda Performance Development (HPD) entered Indy Racing League competition for the first time in 2003. Honda took home two race wins – one by Wheldon’s teammate, Team 7-Eleven driver Tony Kanaan, and the other by teammate Bryan Herta -- and 27 top-five finishes. Prior to entering the IRL, Honda took part in the CART series from 1994 to 2002, where the company won four manufacturers’ championships (1996, 98, 99, 01) and six consecutive drivers' titles (1996-