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Brit wins 2011 GT Academy

  1. Scientific experimentation has propelled mankind forward in unimaginable and fortuitous ways. For example, before George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine, we never knew meat could be toasted sans fat.

    Similarly, before Nissan and Sony PlayStation’s GT Academy, the world could only wonder if a bedroom racer used to spending hours hunched over a console in a darkened room could successfully make it as a fully paid-up agent of oversteer.

    Guess what - they can.

    Words: Vijay Pattni

  2. You know the story by now. In 2008, the makers of Gran Turismo began pondering whether their millions of worldwide gamers posting stonking lap times around digitised manifestations of real circuits could actually compete in a real car, on a real lap, in the real world; a world where adulation goes hand-in-hand with an explosive method of limb removal.

  3. Nissan jumped aboard too, and the first ever Academy was launched. That winner, who beat 25,000 online entrants and the 12 finalists in race camp, was young Spaniard Lucas Ordonez.

    ‘Yeah right’, you mock. ‘He only beat other slightly podgy, malnourished spotty teenagers’. Well, Mr Ordonez competed in the Le Mans 24hr race last weekend, where his Signatech-Nissan LMP2 claimed a 2nd placed podium finish. Our understanding is that Le Mans is a pretty big deal.

  4. Lucas told us: “When I first started racing the other drivers would look at me funny. Then I posted some of the fastest lap times and they all suddenly became my friends.”

    Now this same journey is about to begin for the 2011 GT Academy champion, 19 year-old Jann Mardenborough (above). A chap we bumped into last week at Le Mans, who will now go on to become a real-life racing driver.

  5. “I’m buzzing, ecstatic,” said Jann. “This competition is going to change my life massively.”

    Jann competed online with over 90,000 entrants across 10 European countries posting lap times on Gran Turismo 5, finally making it into the final 12. These 12 hopefuls were flown to Le Mans (in honour of Lucas’ endurance racing debut) where their one-week intensive race camp started, finishing up at Silverstone.

  6. This camp was a proving ground of racing talent, with each finalist karting, racing Nissan 370Zs, GT-Rs and single seaters, together with high-pressure pursuits, a military-style assault course, driving a GT4-spec 370Z and even channelling their inner Maverick via aerial dog-fights in stunt planes.

    And the scrutiny didn’t stop there. The exhausted racelings were being watched over by head judge Eddie Irvine, and mentors including Johnny Herbert, Vitantonio Liuzzi and the Queen of the ‘Ring herself, Sabine Schmitz.

  7. Said Irvine (left): “I’ve been surprised by this experience. When I arrived, I saw there was some work to do, but Jann did a great job throughout and the final decision turned out to be fairly straightforward. He’s been given an amazing opportunity by PlayStation and Nissan, but the hard work has only just begun.”

  8. Jann will now be catapulted into a world of safety-harnessed pain: he will compete in a number of UK races to qualify for his international racing licence, and in January 2012 will undertake the Dubai 24hr race in a Nissan 370Z GT4 car.

    “I’m not sure about the next Lewis Hamilton,” said Jann, “but being the next Lucas Ordonez would be a pretty good start.”

    Watch this space, TopGear.commers…

    (Picture L-R: 2008 winner Lucas Ordonez, 2011 winner Jann Mardenborough, 2010 winner Jordan Tresson) 

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