April 17 in Motorsports History: Wheldon gets his first win


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

Winner Josef Newgarden earns $3.666 million from a record Indy 500 purse of $17 million


INDIANAPOLIS — The first Indy 500 victory for Josef Newgarden also was the richest in race history from a record 2023 purse of just more than $17 million.

The two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, who continued his celebration Monday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned $3.666 million for winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The purse and winner’s share both are the largest in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the second consecutive year that the Indy 500 purse set a record after the 2022 Indy 500 became the first to crack the $16 million mark (nearly doubling the 2021 purse that offered a purse of $8,854,565 after a crowd limited to 135,000 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

The average payout for IndyCar drivers was $500,600 (exceeding last year’s average of $485,000).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, whose team also fields Newgarden’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet, had made raising purses a priority since buying the track in 2020. But Penske but was unable to post big money purses until the race returned to full capacity grandstands last year.

The largest Indy 500 purse before this year was $14.4 million for the 2008 Indy 500 won by Scott Dixon (whose share was $2,988,065). Ericsson’s haul made him the second Indy 500 winner to top $3 million (2009 winner Helio Castroneves won $3,048,005.

Runner-up Marcus Ericsson won $1.043 million after falling short by 0.0974 seconds in the fourth-closest finish in Indy 500 history.

The 107th Indy 500 drew a crowd of at least 330,000 that was the largest since the sellout for the 100th running in 2016, and the second-largest in more than two decades, according to track officials.

“This is the greatest race in the world, and it was an especially monumental Month of May featuring packed grandstands and intense on-track action,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said in a release. “Now, we have the best end card possible for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500: a record-breaking purse for the history books.”

Benjamin Pedersen was named the Indy 500 rookie of the year, earning a $50,000 bonus.

The race’s purse is determined through contingency and special awards from IMS and IndyCar. The awards were presented Monday night in the annual Indy 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

The payouts for the 107th Indy 500:

1. Josef Newgarden, $3,666,000
2. Marcus Ericsson, $1,043,000
3. Santino Ferrucci, $481,800
4. Alex Palou, $801,500
5. Alexander Rossi, $574,000
6. Scott Dixon, $582,000
7. Takuma Sato, $217,300
8. Conor Daly, $512,000
9. Colton Herta, $506,500
10. Rinus VeeKay, $556,500
11. Ryan Hunter‐Reay, $145,500
12. Callum Ilott, $495,500
13. Devlin DeFrancesco, $482,000
14. Scott McLaughlin, $485,000
15. Helio Castroneves, $481,500
16. Tony Kanaan, $105,000
17. Marco Andretti, $102,000
18. Jack Harvey, $472,000
19. Christian Lundgaard, $467,500
20. Ed Carpenter, $102,000
21. Benjamin Pedersen (R), $215,300
22. Graham Rahal, $565,500*
23. Will Power, $488,000
24. Pato O’Ward, $516,500
25. Simon Pagenaud, $465,500
26. Agustín Canapino (R), $156,300
27. Felix Rosenqvist, $278,300
28. Kyle Kirkwood, $465,500
29. David Malukas, $462,000
30. Romain Grosjean, $462,000
31. Sting Ray Robb (R), $463,000
32. RC Enerson (R), $103,000
33.  Katherine Legge, $102,000

*–Broken down between two teams, $460,000 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, $105,500 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports