One skilled PlayStation gamer will in 2013 have the opportunity to become a professional race-car driver – should they be able to outgun the competition in South Africa and the Middle East playing Gran Tourismo.
Already active since 2008, this is the first year South Africans will be eligible to compete in the Nissan GT Academy project.
GT Academy is well-established as a potential route into top-level motorsport. Spain’s Lucas Ordoñez (2008 winner) took second place at the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours race. Ordoñez also contested the full European Le Mans Series in the Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan Le Mans Prototype (LMP)2 car.
French driver Jordan Tresson (2010 winner) is racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours in the Signatech Nissan LMP2 car. The UK’s Jann Mardenborough (2011 winner) has just completed a successful season in the British GT Championship racing a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, nearly clinching the championship in his first season of racing.
His American counterpart, Bryan Heitkotter, has been competing in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series in the top Grand Sport class.
The South African leg of the GT Academy competition launches this month, with Gran Tourismo gamers able to compete online, at selected Nissan dealerships, and at live events across the country.
An exclusive, free-to-download gaming format went live on October 15 and will remain open until December 10. An eight-step qualification programme that can be played online by anyone with a PlayStation 3 will use Gran Tourismo 5 as a base, but has been somewhat tweaked by the game’s creator, Kazunori Yamauchi.
The fastest 16 online finalists and nine dealership and events finalists will move to real-life racing at the Zwartskops Raceway, in Pretoria, whittling the 25 shortlisted participants down to eight.
The eight finalists will be sent to race camp at the Silverstone racing complex, in the UK, where they will compete with eight drivers from the Middle East, with one driver from this group of 16 ultimately chosen to compete in the Silverstone 24 Hours race, following three months of gruelling driver development training.
“By September next year, we will hopefully have a South African competing in the Silverstone 24 Hours,” says Nissan South Africa communications and marketing senior manager Gavin Rheeder.
Ordoñez says winning the competition has “changed his life completely – I am now totally focused on being a racing driver”.
Prior to his career in motor racing, he was an MBA student in Madrid, Spain.
Having completed his studies while racing, Ordoñez dreams of winning the top class in Le Mans for Nissan.
He says the biggest difference between racing in the Gran Tourismo game and in real life is that you cannot simply “restart when you crash”.
“Now, you are risking your life at 300 km/h.”
There are also no G-forces and feedback from the vehicle on Gran Tourismo.
However, Ordoñez praises the developers of the game, noting that the simulation is “fantastic”.
“There is a lot you can learn in a simulator.”
Ordoñez also admits to not being a PlayStation addict before winning the GT Academy event. However, his father and brother were racing drivers, and “it’s in his blood”.
He steadily built up his lap times by playing the GT Academy game online repeatedly, learning from the drivers clocking the fastest times.
He also realised that turning gaming success into racing gold meant becoming physically fit, and learning to speak English, as the event required dealing with the media on a regular basis.
Following in Ordoñez’s footsteps is becoming increasingly difficult, though, as the 20 000 competitors he raced against in 2008 have increased to more than 800 000.
“It’s just so many people, it’s getting crazy,” notes the 26-year-old Spaniard.