10.15.2012 (Via RACER) - With Oct. 16 marking one year since Dan Wheldon's passing at the Las Vegas IndyCar finale, RACER.com reflects on some of the popular Briton's career milestones. This time: Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti on Wheldon's three years with the squad, and what a return could have meant for 2012.
As 2003 dawned, changes abounded for Andretti Green Racing. The team was transitioning from CART – and its mix of ovals and road and street courses, to the all-oval Indy Racing League. Its main driver and team co-owner, a legend in the sport was set to retire from driving. His replacement was this plucky upstart rookie who'd plied his trade in American junior open-wheel series for nearly a half dozen years, ready for his first full opportunity in the big leagues.
But when Michael Andretti signed Dan Wheldon to both replace him and serve as Andretti Green Racing's designated “star of the future” alongside Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and eventual teammate Bryan Herta, he knew he'd secured a rare talent.
“At that time, we were looking for a young driver that we could hopefully raise and get the experience from his teammates,” he says. “It was a perfect opportunity to get a young kid in there. It was still all-oval racing, so we were looking for more or less an oval driver, and Dan had a very successful upbringing on those. He'd won the USF2000 title, which had a lot of ovals, and won about every race. So that was the first thing that caught our eye.
“We decided we'd test him and he really impressed us, so we decided to sign him. We needed a guy who could come in, and I'd start the season and run until Indy and we'd get someone to replace me – and that wound up being Dan, which was perfect.”
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