It’s all-gamer for Nissan GT Academy at Dubai 24 Hour racing
From virtual to real, indeed.
“The ones who are crazy enough to think…”, is a quote that came to my mind when I was invited to catch a small piece of the action of the Dubai 24 Hour endurance race, in which Nissan GT Academy are a part of. And this year, they have gone all-gamer for their driver lineup, which is quite insane if you think about it.
I am pretty sure you know about the GT Academy – it’s a programme sponsored by Sony and Nissan who pulls an average joe GT5-playing dude and batters them to make an international, award winning racer out of. When I was ushered into the hospitality lounge of the Dubai Autodrome, the noise of spattering engines, mechanical whiz and zooming tyres was drowned out by the surreal experience of watching the four GT Academy winners planning and plotting their exploits on the race pitch. I could be one of them, I thought. They were just normal gamers just a little while ago.
“It’s an amazing transition to have an opportunity to go from playing the Playstation at home to actually racing a car,” said Bryan Heitkotter, winner of the GT Academy USA 2011. “There is no other programme in the world that allows you to do that. It’s a real privilege.”
It’s not easy, of course. The drivers are trained to endure the most harshest conditions, and taming of all the mental and physical challenges that comes with being an endurance racer.
“The GT Academy 2011 started in January – one year ago. It started with an online tournament, you login, set your best times. They had three rounds, and by the end of it, top 32 [GT5] drivers were invited to Orlando, Florida for the national finals, where we were racing head to head in Gran Turismo 5,” he said.
“The top 16 from the 32 went to Silverstone England in June to race real cars. We went through a number of physical and mental challenges. We had a lot of different things – we had a base test at the beginning just to see what level we were at. We also had a military-style soft course, which is the toughest thing I have ever had to do!”
The 16 were filtered down to just 4, who were then pitted against each other once again, but this time in a real car, in a real Nissan 370z.
“After the win, I have been living in the UK, and have been racing almost every weekend with Jaan Mardenborough, who is the winner of European GT Academy 2011. We have raced a lot – I have lost count. We have been racing since July to get our license upgraded to come here to Dubai with an international racing license.”
After the interview with Bryan, the winners and I, were shuttled down to the Nissan pit where the team were awaiting the two competing Nissan 370z to stop by for a check. It was my first time in a pit stop and it was..heck, just like in the movies. Right from a TV screen counting weird set of numbers to the guy with a large headset, to the mechanics waiting with wrenches and tools. The awesomeness of it prompted me to think, when will the programme be available here?
“We are constantly looking to expanding the Academy programme. We are hoping to roll out to more and more countries in the coming years. In the last season, we rolled out to the USA for the first time. I am hoping it to be seen in other parts of the world. I would just say watch this space, there will be news forthcoming very soon, I am sure,” said Penrose Tackie, European brand manager for Sony, and the GT Academy.
Now that we had him for ourselves, I couldn’t resist asking some very serious questions. When is Gran Turismo 6 coming?
“That’s a tricky question and I wish I could answer that! All I can say is that the team are working, as mentioned in the media a few months ago. They have started working on it quite a while ago and it will be here soon, I am hoping.”
And will it be on the Playstation 3…you know?
“Again, that’s a question I can’t answer right now, but I am sure news on that front will be coming in very soon.” Well, we tried.
My time was limited, and after deciding to turn down the tempting-ness of the dinner buffet, I made an exit. We wish the GT Academy team goodluck. Long live, Micheal!
More snaps from the event below (courtesy, Sony):