Yesterday, the Nissan GT-R won the Bathurst 12 Hour race — AKA the King of the Mountain race — and it did so in a strange fashion. It wasn't a team of seasoned professional drivers that helped Nissan to the championship, it was a pair of gamers, who developed their driving skills playing Gran Turismo.
News has a great report on the race itself, including a great look at how Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauss took the Nissan GT-R to victory. Both were graduates of Nissan's GT Academy programme — a competition that allows gamers to compete for a $1 million contract to race for Nissan Motorsport around the globe. Reip was the winner in 2012 and Florian Strauss took the championship in 2013. Now both are legitimate professional drivers, and amazing ones at that.
"It’s a bit of a hidden program we need to do more with, as you can see the quality of drivers it’s producing," said Richard Emery, CEO of Nissan Australia.
"I think we probably underestimate what it’s like for a guy who two years ago didn’t have a racing license and is now racing in the dark at Mount Panorama."
It's pretty incredible, but speaks to, firstly, the accuracy of Gran Turismo as a video games and, secondly, the potential for gamers to transfer their in-game driving skills onto the track.
The GT Academy is an international competition that's been running for several years now and the winners of each competition have shone in real life competition. Gaëtan Paletou, a 22-year-old from France, is the most recent winner of the competition, and will now undergo four months of intense development training with Nissan before competing in actual races, the same as previous winners of the competition. Late last year Lucas Ordóñez, the first winner of the competition won his first GT300 race in the 7th round of the Super GT series.
Australia had six entries into the last GT Academy International competition in 2014, with Josh Muggleton being our star performer, but Riccardo Sánchez ended up taking the final prize. There will, however, be another chance for Australia to race for Nissan through the GT Academy program. Richard Emery told News that Nissan is hoping to bring the GT Academy International competition back to Australia in 2015.