April 17 in Motorsports History: Wheldon gets his first win

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Dan Wheldon’s first IndyCar win at Motegi on April 17, 2004 likely did not come to as a surprise to many.

The 25-year-old Briton had previously demonstrated that he had the talent to compete with the big boys. His road to the top of the podium just took a little longer than expected.

Wheldon came to the United States in 1999 to race in USF2000, where he won the championship with six wins in his rookie season. In the following two years, Wheldon competed in Atlantics and then CART’s Dayton Indy Lights series, finishing second overall with two victories in both years.

While his initial goal was to compete in CART, Wheldon was unable to find a ride in the series. He made the decision race to the rival Indy Racing Leauge in 2002, driving in the final two races of the season for Panther Racing.

Dan Wheldon celebrates following his victory following the 2004 Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Wheldon then took up the opportunity to race for part-time Andretti-Green Racing two races into the 2003 season when Dario Franchitti sustained a non-racing injury. When team owner Michael Andretti decided to retire following that year’s Indy 500, Wheldon was retained for the remainder of 2003.

While his start to the season was filled with bad luck and five DNFs, Wheldon improved towards the end of 2003, ending it with three consecutive top-five finishes.

Wheldon was resigned by Andretti for 2004, and scored his first pole position before finishing third in the second race of the year at Phoenix.

Finally, in the third race of the year at Twin Ring Motegi, Wheldon was victorious.

Starting the race from the pole, Wheldon dominated the Indy Japan 300, leading 192 of 200 laps en route to his first career victory.

The win had been a long time in the making for the driver who moved to the U.S. five years prior to chase his dream of becoming a professional race car driver. It was also the first victory for Honda at the track they owned and maintained.

“I think an absolutely awesome day for myself to win my first race,” Wheldon said. “For Honda, I think they kicked butt, and I think they deserve this more than any other engine manufacturer in the world.”

Wheldon would go on to win two more times in 2004 and finish second in the overall point standings. The following year, he won six races, including the Indy 500 en route to winning the series championship.

Wheldon went on to become one of the best drivers of his generation, capturing a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2006 and another win at Indy in 2011. Sadly, Wheldon lost his life in a crash during the 2011 IndyCar finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Also on this date:

1983: Gordon Johncock won the Kraco Dixie 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the 25th and final victory of his career. The race was also the last one for CART at the facility. Open-wheel racing would not return to the state of Georgia until the IRL raced at Atlanta from 1998-2001.

1987: Romain Grosjean was born in Geneva, Switzerland. Grosjean made his Formula debut with Renault in the 2009 European Grand Prix. He has since gone on to compete in 163 more GPs, also driving for Lotus and Haas.

1994: Michael Schumacher won the Pacific Grand Prix at Japan’s Tanaka International Circuit. Sadly, the race was the penultimate one for Ayrton Senna, who died in a crash in the F1’s next race at Imola. 

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Supercross reveals 2023 Daytona track designed by Ricky Carmichael for 16th time

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For the 16th consecutive year, Ricky Carmichael has designed a signature course for the Daytona Supercross race, which will be March 4, 2023.

Eli Tomac took advantage of a last lap mistake by Cooper Webb last year to win a record setting sixth Daytona race – and with that win, he broke out of a tie Carmichael.

Construction on the course will begin two days after the completion of the 65th running of NASCAR’s Daytona 500 when haulers start to unload 7,200 tons of dirt onto the grassy infield in order to create a course 3,300 feet long.

“Ricky has designed yet another incredible course for this year’s Daytona Supercross,” said Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher in a press release. “We’re thrilled to unveil it to the fans, and we can’t wait for them to come out to the track and see it in person.”

MORE: Designs for SuperMotocross finals at zMax Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway

Carmichael’s Daytona course will take center stage for Round 8 of the 17-race Supercross season and the 31-race SuperMotocross season.

The Supercross race coincides with Daytona’s Bike Week, which runs from March 3-12 and includes races from the American Flat Track series and the legendary Daytona 200 speedway race that is contested on the infield road course.

Last year’s course was reported to have 57 obstacles including the return of an over-under bridge. For 2023 the number of obstacles listed in 42, but that will not keep this from being one of the toughest tracks on which the Monster Energy Supercross series will race.

Many of the same elements from last year will be present including sharp turns, vaulted jumps, sand sections and a finish line that aligns with the oval tracks’ start/finish line.

“This year’s Daytona Supercross design is one of the best,” Carmichael said. “It races great for the riders – it’s safe yet challenging and it’s very similar to last year with the split lanes. Daytona is the toughest, gnarliest race on the Supercross circuit, but it’s the most special to win.

“This track is going to produce great racing and I think the riders are going to put on a fantastic display for all our fans.”

While Tomac has dominated this race during his career, Daytona has also been the site of some other dramatic victories. In 2021 Aaron Plessinger scored his first career Supercross podium in 35 starts with a win there and reversed a three-year streak of bad luck on the track.

The Daytona Supercross race is the first of two the series will contest on speedway infield courses. A little more than one month later, Atlanta Motor Speedway will enter their third season as a supercross venue. These two courses will serve as an early test for the SuperMotocross three-race finale that begins September 9, 2023 at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The three playoff races will each be held on courses that contain elements of Supercross and Motocross, much like Daytona and Atlanta.