NOW in its third year, the Nissan and Playstation GT Academy has gone on to prove it’s a successful, if unusual, route into the world of motor racing. Previous winners include Lucas Ordonez who went from holding a Playstation controller to driving at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race.
To put it simply, Nissan and Playstation GT Academy is like no other programme in European motorsport. A special time trial takes place on Playstation’s Gran Turismo game across Europe, with the fastest 20 proceeding to a live round of the time trial. Then the quickest drivers attend the GT Academy school at Silverstone and are put through their paces, with the winner offered the chance to drive at the Dubai 24 Hours race.
Nissan Insider has caught up with the 2011 GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough to have a chat about what it’s like to be this year’s virtual-to-real-race winner, and on his hopes for next year.
How have things been going over the past few months?
I’ve recently received my licence which allows me to race abroad, and I’ve done a few races in the Nissan 370Z GT4 cup car to get me prepared for the Dubai 24 hours race. Overall it’s been going very well – I’ve done a few sessions of karting with Nissan to develop my race craft, my fitness levels and to make me sharper at overtaking and at starting.
Do you spend a lot of time working out?
I get a day off a week and I use that time off by swimming. I have to spend an hour doing this, and I also do an awful lot of running and I spend a lot of time in the gym doing pull-ups. I am also doing the New York marathon in November.
Since starting the GT Academy I have lost four kilos of fat – I was already quite lean to begin with so I am pretty amazed at this. It is all about building up the muscles in the lower half of my back to cope with the g-forces in the corners. Karting helps out with this because it is the closest thing to Formula One. My aim is to be 50 kilos by the time I get to Dubai.
‘It really began as a laugh and I thought I would have a try at it.’
How did the whole process begin?
It started with me spending hours on my Playstation taking part in an online time trial on Gran Turismo 5. It really began as a laugh and I thought I would have a try at it. I gave it a good go for two days – then I was in the top 50 in the UK. I must have put about four hours in each day for about two weeks, and there were times when I was on the Playstation for three hours straight and I wouldn’t improve my time. That was hard.
I then managed to work myself up into the national final which took place at Brands Hatch. The two winners of that went to GT Academy week at Silverstone where there were 16 finalists, and I won. I really feel part of the Nissan family now.
You’re now racing in the GT4 championship with the 370Z – are there any competitors younger than you?
The youngest I have come across are Nigel Mansell’s two sons who are in their early-to-mid 20s. It’s pretty cool for me to be racing guys in their 40s, and especially in GT cars as I have always been interested in ‘normal’ racing cars like saloons and GTs.
Did you have any racing experience before GT Academy?
I didn’t have, actually. I did a bit of karting but I started out at eight years old on a Micky Mouse indoor track. I did that until I was 11 but I only ever had one race – it was a 30-minute endurance race in which I came second in – but no, I was never really into the karting scene. Just before GT Academy I spent three weeks in an indoor karting track just getting myself prepared.