As a competitor and near finalist in the US edition of Gran Turismo’s popular GT Academy, I was thrilled when Sony and Nissan offered to have me out to the National Finals in Orlando Florida. For those of you unfamiliar with the contest the aim is to select the fastest virtual racers around and see if they can hack it as real professional motorsport drivers. While many were skeptical with the initial concept, the winner of the first GT Academy, Lucas Ordonez, has already gone on to lead a successful sports car career including the 24h of Dubai, two full seasons in the FIA GT4 European championship and, starting this year, a seat in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup behind the wheel of the Nissan Signatech LMP2 car.
With over 53,000 contestants the third installment of GT Academy was a huge success. Over the course of three rounds of time trials competitors were whittled down to 32 who would face each other head-to-head in a round robin series of 4-car races. For two days the competition would heat up as the lowest scoring drivers would be systematically eliminated based on a points series until only the last 16 remained. Each driver would be watched by an official to promote fair-play and ensure that body contact was kept to a minimum. After each race the replays would be watched and scrutinized to make sure everyone was on their best behavior.
If this sounds a little serious, keep in mind what’s on the table for the winner; a full contract as a professional driver for Nissan. That’s right, the top 16 from Orlando will be moving on to a hellish week at the UK’s most famous circuit, Silverstone, where the contestants work really starts. A number of things will be assessed in the final leg of the competition including physical fitness, car control, press conferences, performance under pressure and overall speed behind the wheel in a myriad of tests. In the final stage, the contestants will leave virtual behind and will be piloting all sorts of vehicles from karts to Nissan GT-Rs and NISMO Zs to full-on Formula racers.
The driver selected by a panel of racing professionals to have the most potential as a racing driver will then be set on a seven-month training regimen where in he will obtain a racing license, compete in a number of local races in the UK and finally make a debut at a major endurance event. On behalf of Super Street I would like to congratulate (with some amount of jealousy) the 16 individuals moving on to race camp. If you’d like to follow the action from Silverstone please check local listings as the series is set to be aired as a reality show on Speed Channel.
For more photos and a list of the Top 16 finalists, catch our exclusive full story on superstreetonline.com!