Las Vegas, Oct 17: An IndyCar champion was killed on Sunday after his vehicle burst into flames following a high-speed 15-car pile-up.
Briton Dan Wheldon died while competing in the Las Vegas Indy 300 where drivers reach speeds of up to 225mph.
The 33-year-old's Dallara-Honda car was catapulted over another racer and hurled into fencing, where it went up in flames, The Daily Mail reported.
Wheldon, a former private school pupil originally from Buckinghamshire, was rushed to hospital in a helicopter but died as a result of his severe injuries.
The fiery pile-up, on the 13th lap of the 300-mile race, involved almost half of the race's 34 participants.
The married father-of-two, who is survived by his wife, Susie, and two sons, Sebastian, two, and six-month-old Oliver, had been in line for a $5million bonanza if he was first across the finishing line.
IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard confirmed Wheldon's death at a press conference.
He said: ‘IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.'
Officials decided to end the race but, after learning of his death, Mr Wheldon's fellow drivers went on to perform a five-lap salute in his honour.
Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the pileup during Lap 11.
The tragedy comes just months after Wheldon won the famous Indianapolis 500 in May for the second time.
Video replays showed Wheldon's car turning over as it was airborne and sailed into what's called the ‘catch fence,' which sits over the safety barrier that's designed to give a bit when cars make contact.
Wheldon, who lived in St Petersburg, Florida, won the entire IndyCar series championship back in 2005, when he also enjoyed his first triumph in the Indy500 race.
Organisers of today's race had offered a $5million bonus to any non-regular IndyCar drivers who won, but with the handicap of starting at the back of the field.
Despite his success this year, Wheldon was not a regular driver this season and accepted the offer, leading to speculation this pushed him to drive faster than normal.
Three other drivers, including championship contender Will Power, were hurt in the accident.
Wheldon is the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana was killed in practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
Today, as word began to spread that his injuries were fatal, those at the track could not control their tears
Television cameras captured Ashley Judd, the wife of IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, dabbing at her eyes shortly before the official word came.
The remainder of the race was cancelled. Drivers solemnly returned to the track for a five-lap tribute to Wheldon, almost all of them hiding their eyes behind dark sunglasses after being told their colleague was gone.
When drivers returned to the track, Wheldon's No. 77 was the only one on the towering scoreboard. Franchitti sobbed uncontrollably as he got back into his car for the tribute laps.
Over speakers at the track, the song Danny Boy blared, followed by Amazing Grace as hundreds of crew workers from each team stood solemnly.
Rescue workers were at Wheldon's car quickly, some furiously waving for more help to get to the scene. Mr Bernard said the driver's injuries were ‘unsurvivable.'
Wheldon's first Indianapolis 500 victory was in 2005 - he passed Danica Patrick with less than 10 laps to go that year - and his win at the sport's most famed race this year was one to particularly savour. It came in perhaps the oddest of fashions, as he was the beneficiary of a huge gaffe by someone else.
Wheldon was in second place, far back of rookie J.R. Hildebrand approaching the final turn - when Hildebrand lost control and clipped the wall. He zipped past, and the only lap he led all day at Indianapolis was the last one.
He returned to the track the next morning for the traditional photo session with the winner, kissing the bricks as his two-year-old son Sebastian sat on the asphalt alongside him, and wife, Susie, held their then-2-month-old, Oliver.
Wheldon was almost resigned to finishing second at Indy for the third straight year, before misfortune struck Hildebrand. ‘It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis,' he said.
‘That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing. You never know what's going to happen.' Such was the case again today.
Wheldon was well behind the first wave of cars that got into trouble on the fateful lap, and had no way to avoid the wrecks in front of him. There was no time to brake or steer out of trouble.