With the leaps and bounds that esports has made over the last few years, the achievements and accomplishments of GT Academy -- the pathway for Gran Turismo aficionados to become real-life racing drivers -- often gets overlooked.
But the program has been running for several years now, with Nissan, Polyphony and Sony kicking off the program in 2008. Winners from the program each year are then given a contract with Nissan to kickstart their racing career. But the real interest is whether those drivers are able to continue racing once Nissan lets them go.
Photo: Nissan/GT Academy
One success from the GT Academy program is Wolfgang Reip, a 29-year-old from Belgium who was the European GT Academy winner in 2012. As part of the GT program, he's had a contract with Nissan for around three years -- a contract that Nissan recently rescinded.
But that hasn't brought Reip's career to a halt. Within six weeks of not having a manufacturer to race for, he's been picked up by M-Sport Bentley where he'll compete in the Blancpain Endurance Cup.
Reip's deal with Bentley is ground-breaking, because it's the first time a GT Academy winner has signed a factory deal with another manufacturer. "I’m really proud of it. It shows that the program is working," the driver told Sportscar365. "You can actually win a competition from gamer to racer and become a proper racing driver that is able to get a factory drive."
"I hope this will give credibility to GT Academy drivers and also to racing in general. It’s quite easy to judge people on how they get into racing, but you need to be open-minded and to give everybody a chance. In the end it’s the results that matter."
Other GT Academy graduates are continuing to forge ahead with their careers after life at Nissan: Gaetan Paletou was the LMP3 vice-champion for the LMP3 series last year, while Florain Strauss debuted at the Bathurst 12 Hour last year.
Australia's Matthew Simmons, who was the international GT Academy champion for 2015, will also race in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup (Pro Am Class) this year. The first round of the series kicks off in Italy at the famous Monza circuit on April 23-24.