Confirmation of Dan Wheldon's participation in the IndyCar season finale, the IZOD World Championships in Las Vegas, came Tuesday morning and features the Englishman with a chance to capture a major payday.
If he wins, Wheldon would earn $2.5 million for himself and $2.5 million for a lucky fan in the $5 million GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge. Fans can enter at www.indycarworldchampionships.com or the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app starting Wednesday.
When the three high-profile names IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said could “move the needle” of marketing gravitas – Travis Pastrana, Alex Zanardi and Kasey Kahne – were unable to race, Bernard shifted in Wheldon's direction for the Vegas challenge.
“We wanted to not let our fans down,” Bernard said. “We felt we should try to go on and try a new challenge and keep it within the sport.”
Wheldon will start last in what Bernard said could be a field of “30-plus cars” in a jointly entered Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Bryan Herta Autosport entry with sponsorship from Bowers & Wilkins, Magnolia, William Rast, CURB and Big Machines Records.
“One advantage from starting at the back is that I can focus solely on race trim,” Wheldon said.
The partnership is the same as Wheldon's effort at Indianapolis, where he captured his second Indianapolis 500 victory, and the biggest payday for anyone this year at more than $2.56 million.
Herta said due to the team's ongoing commitment in testing the new 2012 IndyCar that some BHA staff will be focused on that while there would be a similar integration of Schmidt staff to help service the Wheldon entry at Las Vegas.
Both Wheldon and Bernard addressed controversy over Wheldon's eligibility as a regular, but non-full-time in 2011, IndyCar driver to earn the payout.
“Randy picked the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner – it's not me personally,” Wheldon said. “That made all the major headlines this year. It just happened to be me.”
“One of our goals for 2011 was to reach the mainstream, and that was the whole reason the $5 million challenge came in,” Bernard said. “When that didn't happen, we received too much positive momentum to let it go. One way we could still do it was reach one driver – and with the guy who got the most press this year. Every driver should benefit significantly if we move the dial on the ratings.”
With GoDaddy on board to sponsor both the challenge and Michael Andretti's team, as Andretti was also in attendance, Wheldon had to take a couple playful jabs at his former car owner.
“Michael, I respect you immensely, but I hope I can beat all four of your cars,” Wheldon said.
At the end of the press conference, Wheldon respectfully asked: “If I do win, do I have to do a racy GoDaddy ad? I'd have to go tanning for that.”