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GT Academy

GT Academy Winners Shine at Dubai 24 Hours Taking 5th Place Overall and 2nd in Class

The NISMO PlayStation® GT Academy continued its legacy of unearthing real racing talent from the world of PlayStation®’s Gran Turismo game today when an all-gamer line-up finished the 2015 Dubai 24 Hours race in second position in the top Pro-Am class, a stunning fifth overall.

Competing in the full race-spec 550bhp Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the prestigious international race was the ultimate prize for four GT Academy 2014 winners - Gaëtan Paletou (France), Ahmed Bin-Khanen (Saudi Arabia), Ricardo Sánchez (Mexico) and Nicolas Hammann (USA). The impressive result comes after only three months of intensive training in GT Academy’s cutting-edge Driver Development Programme. The new drivers were joined in the race by 2013 GT Academy Germany winner, Florian Strauss – the team’s ‘professional’ with a full 18-months of racing experience.

The tenth running of the Dubai 24 Hours was the first taste of international racing for the latest crop of GT Academy champions and the first time that the gamer-to-racer competition winners have raced in Dubai in the premier A6 category. The gamers proved once again to be up to the challenge putting in a disciplined, controlled, mature and, most importantly, quick performance to take to the podium. They were only beaten in the Pro-Am class by a team that included two professional drivers, one of whom was GT Academy judge Rob Barff.

The ‘veteran’ Strauss had qualified the #23 car 14th overall and first in the Pro-Am class on Thursday and it was down to him to make Friday’s race start in a packed grid of 95 cars. Strauss handed over to European winner Gaëtan Paletou before Middle East winner Ahmed Bin-Khanen took the car into Dubai’s dusk. International winner Ricardo Sánchez and North American champion Nicolas Hammann raced their first stints in the darkness of the 5.39km circuit.

The GT Academy team’s fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout the night with some unlucky timing on driver changes and a couple of drive-through penalties costing them time. But when the sun came up, Nicolas handed over to Florian who put in a charge and took the car to P2 in class, fifth overall. Gaëtan consolidated the position handing over to Ricardo with a five-lap buffer over their nearest rivals. The team orders then came through to bring the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 home safely and, fittingly, it was senior partner Florian Strauss who took the chequered flag in the fourth 24-hour race of his 18-month motorsport career.

Dubai is a major step towards professional racing for GT Academy winners. The race allows them to show off the skills first displayed on the Gran Turismo® game for PlayStation®3 and then honed by top experts in driving, race craft, fitness and psychology on the comprehensive, fast-track GT Academy Driver Development Programme. Those that display the right speed, aptitude and potential may be lucky enough to be invited to become NISMO Athletes, joining the likes of Strauss, Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordoñez as key components in Nissan’s burgeoning motorsport programme.

Darren Cox, Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales, NISMO added: “What a performance. Twenty four hour races are generally a rollercoaster of drama and excitement combined with severe fatigue. However, it is testament to the professionalism of the team, the reliability and speed of our car and the thorough preparation of our drivers that we have come through this event relatively unscathed and with a highly impressive result. It speaks volumes that the team brought out three tonnes of spare parts and will take the same three tonnes back home with them!

“Through taking the natural talent these guys show in their gaming and adding NISMO’s real-world racing knowhow, GT Academy continues to unearth and develop some very exciting drivers in an incredibly short space of time. These guys have all done a great job in Dubai and GT Academy continues to give us the tough, but welcome, challenge of having access to so many talented drivers as our racing programme grows. My thanks, as always, to the hugely professional team that make GT Academy happen and special mention, after a gruelling 24 Hours, to Bob Neville and the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN.”

“Each year we see more and more success stem from GT Academy which has seen over five million people pursue their dreams of racing cars through PlayStation,” said Penrose Tackie, Senior European Brand Manager from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. “GT Academy really is making history and it is always incredibly satisfying to witness how it has already changed the lives of these Gran Turismo gamers. They did a great job here and everybody involved in the project should be very proud.”

Bob Neville, Team Principal of Nissan GT Academy Team RJN
“Having been involved in the GT Academy programme since the very beginning I probably shouldn’t be surprised any more by results like these. But when you look at the entry list that we were up against, it has surprised me again! This is a great result. We had a few silly penalties and were unlucky in timings of a couple of driver changes, but other than that this has been a near faultless performance by the team and our drivers. Second in this class is a very impressive result and immensely satisfying. It has been a pleasure, as always, to work with the latest GT Academy winners.”

Gaëtan Paletou (France)
“While this result is fantastic and I am so happy, I can’t help feeling that it is overshadowed by the sadness I feel for what has happened in France over the past couple of days. I am keen to get home.

“We really didn’t expect that we would be driving the GT-R GT3 so soon in our careers, so to come here and get a podium against so many pro drivers is incredible. We had no problems with the car thanks to a fantastic team effort and all of us were able to drive very cleanly and avoid contact – which is not so easy with 95 cars on track.

"GT Academy has truly changed my life. I am not the same person I was five months ago – physically and mentally. I have learnt so much and I am extremely grateful to everyone, and I hope that I’ll get the opportunity to do more racing.”

Ricardo Sánchez (Mexico)
“Without my dad seeing the GT Academy live event in a shopping centre I wouldn’t be here, so a big thanks to all my family. To have the chance to race a GT-R GT3 car in my first-ever international race has just been a truly amazing opportunity. It is a huge step up from racing the 370Z with the downforce and the braking and then to be racing against some of the world’s best sports car drivers is amazing. We gamers have put our hands up and said ‘we’re here!’ I hope we can continue and make everyone proud.”

Ahmed Bin-Khanen (Saudi Arabia)
“This is awesome. To be here not so far from home and surrounded by so many friends and family and people shouting my name is amazing. From the PlayStation on my couch six months ago to the podium of a major race against some top international drivers is incredible. Thanks to RJN for trusting us to race the GT-R in such a big race. It looks like it was definitely the right decision.”

Nicolas Hammann (USA)
“Unbelievable! I am so grateful to Nissan and PlayStation for this opportunity. I think we’ve really shown today just how good GT Academy is. I don’t think people really thought we had a chance in this class, but everyone did a great job, especially the RJN team. There’s nothing like the feeling of being out there in a race for so long, lap after lap in that car. It’s a blast. It’s going to be hard to go home now after that.”

Florian Strauss (Germany)
“I’m delighted with the result. Starting the race was a lot of pressure, but we soon found a good rhythm – all of the new guys as well – and have done an amazing job. We did what was needed during the night and then I was able to put in a quick stint to get us up and Gaëtan gave us a buffer and we just had to bring the car home safely with no pressure.

“It was my fourth 24 hour race in 18 months. They are always tough, but I absolutely love it. It is so exciting and the car felt so good that after this morning’s double stint, I felt I could do another two hours straight away. The new guys did a great job and they are very quick so I know I have to look out.”