IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was killed yesterday in a 15-car pile up at the Las Vegas Indy 300, after suffering “unsurvivable injuries”.

The British driver’s car flew over another vehicle at high speed and landed in a fence just outside one of the turns in Lap 13. Three other drivers, who were racing for £3.15m in prize money, were hurt in the crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it,” fellow driver Ryan Briscoe said. “The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on firein the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere so it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt.”

Wheldon, 33, who lived in Florida, was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, including this year’s race. He was taken by helicopter to University Medical Centre with his wife and two children at his side, but he died of his injuries.

About two hours later, his colleagues were told of his death.

“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race.” In his honour, drivers took part in a five-lap salute around the oval.

Wheldon was born in Buckingham in 1978 and educated at Bedford School. He developed an early rivalry with Jenson Button before moving to America to further his career and was later offered a chance by the BMW Formula One team which he turned down. After winning the 2005 IndyCar title, he suffered a number of lean years but seemed to be on the way back up after his Indianapolis 500 victory in May, which he dedicated to his mother, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was married with two boys aged two and seven months.

Yesterday, Wheldon started at the back of the field but quickly worked his way through the 34-car field before the crash. Drivers had been concerned about the high speeds at the track, where they were hitting nearly 225 mph during practice. Their worries became reality when contact on Turn 2 sent cars flying through the air, crashing into each other and into the outside wall and catch fence.

Button, who raced against Wheldon in karting, wrote on Twitter: “Just woken up to the most horrific news. Dan Wheldon RIP… I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early 90’s, a true fighter.”

Lewis Hamilton, who, like his McLaren team mate, Button, enjoys a higher profile than Wheldon ever did, released a statement acknowledging the influence of the 2005 IndyCar champion on his career.

“This is an extremely sad day,” the 2008 Formula One world champion 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 Indy500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration.

“This is a tragic loss at such a young age. My heart goes out to his family and friends during this extremely difficult time.”

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