ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) race weekend that started with surprisingly strong pace and impressive qualifying times for the Always Evolving NISMO GT Academy GT-R team ended with one car damaged and the other penalized after on-track contact. The news of a serious accident involving the No. 23 Nissan GT-R at Germany’s Nürburgring also weighed heavy on the team.

Nissan released this statement Sunday morning:

During today’s ‘VLN 1’ race at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a serious incident occurred involving the No.23 Nissan. The car is reported to have left the track at the ‘Flugplatz’ section and vaulted the catch fencing, landing on its roof in a spectator area.  

Several spectators were injured in the incident and despite immediate efforts one of them succumbed to their injuries. The others have been taken immediately to hospital for care.

The driver, Jann Mardenborough got out of the car and, after initial checks in the circuit Medical Centre, has been taken to hospital for further routine checks.  

Today’s events have been a tragedy. We are all deeply shocked and saddened by these events and our immediate thoughts go to the deceased, those injured and their families and friends. The team is fully co-operating with the race organisers to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into this incident. 

James Davison in the #33 GT-R qualified a strong fourth overall for Saturday’s PWC Round Three. After slipping to seventh at the start of a race that featured only 10 of 25 laps under green flag conditions, Davison brought the teal and black GT-R home a hard fought sixth, 5.78 seconds behind the winning all wheel drive Acura.

GT Academy Champ Bryan Heitkotter qualified on the pole for Saturday’s race in the GTA class (11th overall) for drivers who are not FIA ranked. During the race Heitkotter was running second in class in the #05 GT-R and looked to have a podium spot in hand when he was knocked into the wall by a Mercedes he was passing, with a mere ten minutes left in the race. After a post-race assessment of the damage, the team determined that the #05 car could not be repaired for Sunday’s round four.

“Qualifying was very interesting. You had to get a great lap in early before the puddles became deeper,” said Heitkotter. “It was a challenge judging the grip around the track right away with so many painted lines, camber changes and no room for error. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse during Saturday’s race.

Another competitor made a mistake and his car struck mine, spinning me into the concrete wall. A double DNF is a hard pill to swallow but now we must think ahead to come back stronger for the next races. If anyone can do it, our team can.”

Davison started Sunday’s race fifth on the basis of his best lap Saturday. On lap 19, he had the GT-R running seventh when the fifth place car of Mike Skeen went wide, allowing Ryan Dalziel to pass for position and put Davison alongside Skeen battling for sixth. The two made contact, spinning Skeen and earning Davison a drive-through penalty. Davison finished the race in 18th.

Despite the disappointment of accidents and penalties, the competitiveness of the big cars on a tight street circuit best suited for light, mid-engine cars was encouraging for the team. Testing sessions in North Carolina between stops yielded results for setup and driver familiarization, and the team looks forward to more improvements for future rounds.

“This weekend was filled with challenges, emotions and adversity,” said Always Evolving team owner, Erik Davis. “First, and most importantly, our thoughts are with the families tragically affected by the event at Nürburgring. This kind of incident in Motorsports quickly puts thing into perspective. With respect to our weekend at St. Pete, we had a crash on Saturday in Bryan’s car and an unfortunate penalty on Sunday with James resulting in a less than desirable outcome for the team and drivers. With that said, everyone on the team is focused to take on the challenges head-on and provide better results for our partner Nissan, and the AE/GT Academy program.”

Next round of the Pirelli World Challenge is April 17-19 on the street circuit at Long Beach, California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Live online streaming available at www.world-challengetv.com. Broadcast on CBS Sports Network will air Sunday, April 26, 3:30 p.m. Eastern/12:30 pm. Pacific.

For more information on Nissan GT Academy North America, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GTAcademyNA. NISMO Performance page on Facebook is www.facebook.com/NISMO.us

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