Virtua Racers: from bedroom to track
Five years ago, Lucas Ordóñez was playing console games. This year he came third at Le Mans. Welcome to GT Academy...
Posted: 15 Nov 2013
2011 TG Academy Winner Jann Mardenborough
What were you doing before GT Academy?
I was maybe three months into my gap year, when around January-time I entered GT Academy. I was at home, and all my friends had gone off travelling, or had started University, so I was just playing PlayStation all day. My parents weren’t too happy, but I didn’t have much else to do. That also meant I could focus 100 per cent on qualifying.
How many hours of games a week did you play?
I think before GT Academy I’d play every day for about two hours, but when GT Academy started, for two weeks solid, probably a solid four to five hours a day just to qualify. That’s, erm, a lot.
How did you first hear about GT Academy?
I heard about it in 2008 when there was a TV advert for the first one. After that, I recognised it and happened to be on Gran Turismo at the time, noticed GT Academy was open again and entered it from there. I missed 2010 as I was doing A-Levels and it completely passed me by.
So was it a long process to get to the end?
I started off at home, on the PlayStation, on a six-week online time trial. After six weeks the top 20, including me, went to the national event held over two days, where people got knocked out of the competition until only two were left, who would then progress to the international event held at Silverstone. That had 12 finalists in total. At that point there’s no games involved, it’s all in-car stuff. And then you get lots of different challenges at that point.
What was your reaction when you won?
As soon as I was announced and I stepped up onto the podium, I just knew that my life was going to change, for the better, and drastically so. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had.
Were you fit at the time? How tough did you find real racing?
I’d say this year it’s definitely been a huge challenge. Formula Three is a big step up from a GT car, anyway. In GT cars you get tired more from the heat inside the cockpit. It’s pretty tough. I’d say the biggest thing is how you look at other drivers. At home on the PlayStation you’re watching a television so my eyes were constantly fixated on a screen, whereas being a racing driver, you have to look at various things. My peripheral vision was a big thing – you need a lot of training just to, literally, get your head around it, and it felt really unnatural at first. Now it’s fine, but that was one of the hardest things to adjust to.
Did you get much respect from your fellow drivers at first?
I don’t really pay much attention to what other people say. Obviously, there were one or two who gave me a wide berth, but the reaction overall has been very good. I’ve got a lot of respect from other drivers which is good. They think it’s a fantastic opportunity. Formula Three is a little bit different right now for me, because there are loads of young guys involved all gunning for you, but definitely for GT cars, the reaction has been good.
What has been your racing highlight to date?
Definitely Le Mans 2013 [as a rookie, Jann
outqualified his teammates and therefore did the first stint of the 24-hour
race]. Third in class on my first time out was just amazing stuff. I didn’t
feel great during my qualifying laps because there was too much traffic out
there, I think the pace was a lot more top five. But in the race it doesn’t really
matter about qualifying too much because it’s over 24 hours.
Were you nervous of such a big race on such a big stage?
I didn’t get intimidated by Le Mans before I raced there. Yes, you’re aware of the actual people that are taking part in that track, so in that sense you do get a bit of a spine-tingling sensation, but then you’ve got a job to do and focus on the task in hand. You can’t focus on your emotions too much.
What’s your favourite track?
The Norisring in Germany. If you look at it on a piece of paper, it’s just a dual carriageway with a couple of hairpins thrown in and a chicane, but it’s so much more than that, so many bumps, little tricks; it’s a very technical circuit.
Do you miss your gaming days?
No, I love what I do now, to be honest – it’s the perfect thing. There isn’t as much free time involved, but no complaints at all from me.
What advice would you give to GT Academy hopefuls?
Dedication is the biggest thing. It’s very easy to get all high and mighty with your head in the clouds very quickly in this sport, because sometimes you have so many things going for you. Push yourself a 100 per cent all the time and never give up. It’s very easy to start slacking. Don’t take shortcuts. Always pursue your target.
What’s the most terrifying racecar you’ve driven?
None are terrifying, if I’m honest. I’d say that the most exciting was probably a World Series car I tested recently, that was mega. 530-odd horsepower, 710kg with the driver and it’s got DRS – a proper, proper car that. The most exciting and fastest car I’d ever driven. But my most terrifying moment in a car would probably have been at Le Mans, going out on cut-slicks in a qualifying session, and it was damp. At one end of the Indianapolis corner it was soaking wet; I remember aquaplaning off the road and into the grass. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything but that was terrifying. Quite horrible.
Do you ever get scared?
Everybody gets a little bit scared of something, but no, you can’t bring any emotion into it. There are scary times, of course, but you can’t afford to go into a race being scared.
What are your plans for next season?
I’m a bit unsure just yet. I’ll definitely be racing, GP3 might be on the cards for next year, World Series might be on the cards, there’s the possibility of F3 or prototypes. It all sounds promising; I just don’t know what in yet.
What’s your ultimate racing ambition?
Formula One. That’s the absolute pinnacle. But also, competing at the top class at Le Mans – in LMP1 – would be hugely appealing as well, if that ever happens. Formula One’s the ultimate goal though.
Who is your racing hero?
It’s quite weird, because I’ve got quite a few. Colin McCrae, Tommi Mäkinen, people like Rickard Rydell and Alain Menu – touring and rally car drivers – that’s what I used to watch as a child, and, of course, Lewis Hamilton.
Which classic car would you like to own?
Classic car? Oof, that’s interesting. I’ve recently been looking at a few recently – one’s a childhood car that I’ve always wanted, and now I’ve got the opportunity to get one. It’s the E39 BMW M5. It’s probably going to cost me quite a lot, too.
So how has GT Academy changed your life?
It’s changed my life massively. I went from zero to, well, not hero, but having everything I ever wanted really. For me there are no cons. When you fill out any form, and it asks you for your job title and you fill out “racing driver” that’s awesome, isn’t it?
Has it helped get more, ahem, female attention?
[Laughs] It certainly helps, yes.