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Dan Wheldon's $2.5 million payday

31 May 2011

It was announced on Monday that Dan Wheldon's dramatic race win at the end of Sunday's centennial Indianapolis 500 had netted him a total pay packet of $2,567,255.

The $2.5m comes from an overall race prize purse of $13,509,485, which is split between the entrants depending on their performance in qualification, places made up during the race - and of course their final finishing position. The drivers might be racing primarily for the thrill of the sport and because they want to win above all else, but no one's denying that the pay cheque has a certain appeal to it as well.

How the funds are shared out by the driver depends on the commercial arrangements with his team, but Wheldon will certainly keep a nice chunk of walking-around money to see himself through 2011 despite not having a regular IndyCar drive.

Wheldon beat JR Hildebrand in the last seconds of the race, after Hildebrand went up too high, got onto the marbles and smashed into the wall - although the car did end up carrying on by sheer momentum over the finish line marked by the famous "yard of bricks" to pick up second place.

The 23-year-old Californian rookie will pick up a pay cheque of $1,064,895, together with the prestigious Indianapolis 500 Chase Rookie of the Year Award which adds another $25,000 and a trophy, although these will be scant consolation for losing out on the historic victory that was so nearly his.

Alex Tagliani nets $492,245 from Indianapolis thanks to the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone; Tagliani crashed on lap 148 and was ultimately classified in 28th position.

Third-place finisher Graham Rahal climbed up from 29th position during the 200 laps, giving him a bonus award for the greatest advance in position in the race and consequently takes home a cheque of $646,945 for his career-best Indianapolis finish.

Tony Kanaan's climb from 22nd on the grid to finish fourth was nearly as good, and he earned $438,745 for his fourth top-five finish in the Indy 500.

And former Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon - who was the bookies' favourite for the win and who looked very much the man to beat for much of the race - receives $519,345 for finishing in fifth position.

Meanwhile, Wheldon is now being packed off for a cross-country publicity tour around the US to celebrate his second Indy 500 victory. The first thing he had to do was spend some money on clothing for the multi-city tour and a new suit for the Victory Banquet on Monday evening.

"I didn't think I'd need one," he said.

Despite having won the Indy 500 before back in 2005, Wheldon seems surprised by how different it all is this time around, both personally and in terms of media reception.

"For me, winning the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 is very special," said Wheldon. "This one was definitely more emotional; there was a lot more going on. A lot of things have changed in my life since 2005 ... Because I'm more experienced I'm able to appreciate this more and you have more time to appreciate it."

The fact that he's the winner of the race in its centennial year together with the dramatic nature of the finish means that media attention has been far greater than in 2005, when his victory seemed almost sidelined by the US media who were focussing on the breakthrough performance that year by a new young American driver by the name of Danica Patrick - who that year became the first female driver to lead laps of the Indy 500.

The race was dubbed "the Dan and Danica" show but in truth it was Danica who was the star even if Dan had won the race. That must have irritated them both, and it's been noticeable that the two have engaged in a long-running cold war that at times has broken out into open hostilities with words and worse exchanged in the pit lane over the intervening years.

But in a nice touch, it emerged that once all the hoopla had settled down and the cameras had departed from Indianapolis, Danica paid Dan Wheldon a private visit in his trailer at the Speedway to congratulate him on his victory and to bury the hatchet once and for all.

Other factors have added to Wheldon's victory this time around: he's only the 18th driver to be a multiple winner of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 100 years, and the first from England. And no one has ever won the race before by leading only a single lap of the entire afternoon (leading the 200th lap being obviously a prerequisite for victory!)

The fact that this year has seen the small teams convincingly beat the biggest IndyCar players such as Ganassi and Penske at every turn has also added to the "David versus Goliath" storyline for Wheldon's second Indy 500 win. Where Wheldon was a regular season driver in a car from the then-dominant Andretti-Green Racing team, this year he's with a single-car start-up team put together by Bryan Herta and Wheldon himself is without a full-time seat for the rest of the year. The American media loves an underdog story.

Wheldon is also becoming something of a media personality, moving into television punditry with US coverage of IndyCar races which means that at last he's got something of a public profile to make him more newsworthy in post-Indy coverage. If only the same were true in the UK, where despite his historic victory this weekend he has been mentioned only in brief postscripts in blanket coverage of Lewis Hamilton's post-Monaco outburst.

It feels odd to think of Wheldon finishing his victory tour and then heading back to his home in St Petersburg, Florida to play house husband for his wife Susie and their sons, two-year-old Sebastian and new arrival Oliver. The idea that IndyCar now rolls on to the Firestone Twin 275 at Texas Motor Speedway in under two weeks without the Indy 500 champion in attendance seems like a very strange state of affairs. (An appearance at the last-ever IndyCar race to be held at Motegi in September has been mooted, because of Wheldon's long-standing strong associations with the race's title sponsor, Honda.)

But surely some sponsor and team out there will be looking at Dan Wheldon today, and thinking that their name and branding would look rather good on the winner's champagne- and milk-soaked firesuit for the rest of the season?

Full list of prize money also available.


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