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Moment driver was killed in 15-car racing fireball carnage

TRIBUTES were paid to a popular driver who died after a high-speed crash during an IndyCar race in America.

Dan Wheldon was involved in a 15-vehicle crash while competing in yesterday's Las Vegas Indy 300.

The 33-year-old Briton was taken to hospital in a helicopter but died of his injuries.

IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard told a press conference: "IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries."

Formula One star Lewis Hamilton led the tributes to Wheldon, and said it was an "extremely sad day".

Hamilton said: "Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motorsport ladder in the UK.

"He was an extremely talented driver. As a British guy, who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration."

Wheldon had been in line to receive $5m (¤3.6m) had he won the race.

The accident happened on the race's 13th lap. The impact sent several burning cars flying through the air and smashing into the outside wall and catch fence.

With cars smouldering and debris littering the track, the race was red-flagged as crews worked on fences and removed the damaged cars.

Dario Franchitti -- who was confirmed as the IndyCar 2011 champion -- said there had been warning signs before the crash. "I could see within five laps people were starting to do crazy stuff." And Wheldon's former Andretti Green team-mate, who was not involved in the crash, said. "I love hard racing but that to me is not really what it's about. One small mistake..."

Formula One driver Jenson Button paid tribute to Wheldon on Twitter.

He wrote: "Just woken up to the most horrific news.. Dan Wheldon RIP..."

The Buckinghamshire-born Wheldon, a father of two who lived with his wife and sons in Florida, won 16 times in his IndyCar career and was the series champion in 2005.