Nissan GT Academy - the most famous virtual-to-reality contest
Many car manufacturers involved in motorsports have their own racing schools and programs for young drivers, but the project called Nissan GT Academy, which started as the cooperation of Nissan and the producers of Gran Turismo, the most popular racing video game worldwide, is unique.
Unique contest with a special prize
Nissan GT Academy is virtual-to-reality contest that allows the best Gran Turismo players to compete for the opportunity to become a real-life professional racecar drivers. Any player who proves skills in the virtual world has a chance to go wheel-to-wheel in a real racecar on a real circuit to achieve the grand prize – a spot in the Nissan racing team, and all the training and licensing needed to race in international events.
The first competition was limited to Europe
GT Academy started in 2008 and has so far produced many drivers which are currently in the first league of global motorsport. All of them can commend that their dreams came true and became the racers in a special way – by jumping from the video game console to the cockpit of the race car. The first contest in 2008 was limited to Europe, but because of the increasing popularity, GT Academy was launched in the USA in the 2011 season and afterwards, they spread all over the world.
The first phase is PlayStation battle
Every year, the contest is divided in few phases. Top PlayStation Gran Turismo gamers are identified in a series of online time trials using pre-selected Nissan and Nismo vehicles. A few players are chosen amongst thousands participants, who are then selected to participate in the National Final Events where they battle in special racing pods during a series of live Gran Turismo elimination rounds.
From virtual to real race cars
The top performers from these National Finals are then invited to take part in the Final Selection Rounds, for example at Silverstone Circuit, where the action jumps from the virtual cars to actual Nissan and Nismo sports vehicles. Competitors are tested on their strength, stamina, mental agility and driving skills. Judges look for pure talent, drive, passion and dedication to determine who really has what it takes to become a professional racecar driver.
List of Nissan GT Academy winners:
2008 Europe: Lucas Ordonez
2010 Europe: Jordan Tresson
2011 Europe: Jann Mardenborough
2011 USA: Bryan Heitkotter
2012 Europe: Wolfgang Reip
2012 USA: Steve Doherty
2012 Russia: Mark Shulzhitskiy
2012 Germany: Peter Pyzera
2013 Europe: Miguel Faisca
2013 USA: Nick McMillen
2013 Russia: Stanislav Aksenov
2013 Germany: Florian Strauss
2014 Europe: Gaetan Paletou
2014 USA: Nicolas Hammann
2014 Germany: Marc Gassner
2014 International: Ricardo Sanchez
2015 Europe: Romain Sarazin
2015 International: Matthew Simmons
2015 Asia: Jose Gerard Policarpio
The first season GT Academy champion was Lucas Ordonez
So far, 19 young men from all over the world have won the titles of Nissan GT Academy Champions. The first champion, back in 2008, was Spaniard Lucas Ordonez. Then a 23-year-old MBA student, Ordonez was one of the fastest online gamers in Spain, which won him a spot in the Academy Finals where he battled an international field of competitors during five days of intensive race training in real cars at the famous Silverstone circuit. After he was declared the champion, Ordonez participated in the Driver Development Program where his dedication and talents enabled him to obtain an international racing license.
First race alongside Le Mans and F1 legend
For his first race, he joined the former Le Mans champion and Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert to compete in the Dubai International 24 Hours as part of the GT Academy team. After a strong showing in Dubai, Ordonez was recruited to drive for Nissan in the 2009 European GT4 Cup alongside Briton Alex Buncombe. The pair almost won the driver’s championship, finishing a close 2nd place.
Famous Le Mans race became the home event
After that, Ordonez competed in various championships and series all over the world, including five participations at the most famous race: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the 2015 season, he competed in the Japanese Formula 3 and Japanese Super GT Championship. A similar story follows every one of the GT Academy winners who competed not only with Nissans (370Z, GT-R Nismo GT3, Altima Coupe, Micra) and prototypes but also with other single-seaters and GT machines in Europe, USA and Asia.
GT Academy trio in Nissan LMP1 prototype at Le Mans
More than half of all listed drivers are still in top racing in various series across the world. Three of them (Ordonez, Mardenborough, Shulzhitskiy) competed at the 2015 24h Le Mans with Nissan’s LMP1 prototype. Jann Mardenborough was listed as one of the top 50 most marketable world athletes. He became one of the most recognizable racers created through the Nissan GT Academy programme, although he didn’t win any international titles.
RJN Motorsport as an operational partner since the beginning
Since the beginning of the programme in the 2008 season, the British racing team RJN Motorsport has become an operational partner of the Nissan GT Academy. Most of the GT Academy winners went through the training with RJN experts and experienced drivers. The next step was joining racing competitions under the banner of newly formed Nissan GT Academy Team RJN, which recorded notable results in various international competitions, especially in the Blancpain GT Series with GT-R Nismo GT3.
Wolfgang Reip triumphed in the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series
Wolfgang Reip, who was the GT Academy winner in 2012, started to compete with Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in 2013. Since then, Reip and his Nismo ‘Godzilla’ raced in the FIA GT Championship, British GT Championship, Blancpain GT Series, Japanese Super GT championship and various non-championship races. Throughout the years, Reip’s experience has been growing and finally in 2015, he was crowned as Blancpain Endurance Series champion, together with fellow drivers Alex Buncombe and Katsumasa Chiyo.
Reip’s successors in the Blancpain GT Series during the season of 2016 are the winners of 2015 GT Academy edition Romain Sarazin and Matthew Simmons, but also 2014 winner Ricardo Sanchez. Lucas Ordonez will also have a seat in GT-R Nismo GT3 during the 2016 season.
Video : Promotional video of the Nissan GT Academy
Racing dreams can become reality
All those stories are proving how dreams of millions youngsters who are racing virtually at their homes can one day become true and that they can be famous race drivers on the legendary circuits with legendary cars. Nissan GT Academy made dreams of 19 men come true and everybody who thinks that his PlayStation is just a first step on the way to a racing career can also follow that dream.