LOS ANGELES (AFP) - British driver Justin Wilson was declared dead on Monday after suffering a severe head injury during an IndyCar race in Pennsylvania, plunging the sport into mourning and triggering calls for a review of safety measures.
Wilson, 37, had been in a coma since Sunday, when a piece of debris from another racer's car struck his helmet on the final laps of the "Tricky Triangle" at Pocono Raceway in the penultimate IndyCar Series race of the season.
Loved ones of the Sheffield-born Andretti Autosport racer had flown to be at his bedside at Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown earlier on Monday before his death was announced.
"This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole," said Mark Miles, chief executive of the parent company which runs IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Justin's elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility - which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock."
Wilson's younger brother Stefan, also a racing driver, paid tribute on Twitter. "Can't even begin to describe the loss I feel right now. He was my Brother, my best friend, my role model and mentor. He was a champion!" he wrote.
"I often told him, I just want to grow up to be half the man he is, as that will make me a pretty good man." Andretti Autosport also paid tribute, describing Wilson as a "tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team."
"While Justin was only part of the Andretti lineup for a short time, it only took a second for him to forever become part of the Andretti family," a statement said. "His life and racing career is a story of class and passion surpassed by none."
Legends of the motorsport world united in an outpouring of grief. "Terrible news... deepest condolences to all the family. RIP," British Formula One great Nigel Mansell wrote on Twitter.
IndyCar legend Dale Earnhardt Jr added: "Thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and to the @IndyCar family. #RIPJustinWilson".
Other drivers paid tribute to Wilson's personal qualities.
"Wow, what a sad day. @justin-wilson was a good man. A great man. I had the pleasure of knowing him and pray for his family," wrote Danica Patrick.
Former teammate AJ Allmendinger added: "We lost one of the great ones today. One of the best ever."
Wilson was hit by the nose cone of fellow driver Sage Karam's car after it spun out on lap 179 of the 200-lap race. The father of two was airlifted to the hospital immediately after the crash, and never regained consciousness.
Wilson had driven in major US open-wheel racing since the 2004 season. He was driving a partial schedule in 2015 for Andretti, making his 174th IndyCar start. He recorded seven wins in CART and IndyCar races, his most recent coming at Texas in 2012.
Wilson's death is the first fatality in IndyCar since the 2011 accident that claimed the life of fellow Briton Dan Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series champion and a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
US auto racing legend Eddie Cheever, now an IndyCar analyst for ESPN, said Wilson's death should lead to a thorough analysis of safety measures in the sport, while acknowledging the freak nature of Sunday's accident.