GT Academy began in 2008, with Lucas Ordoñez emerging from 25,000 competitors across 12 countries to become the first Gran Turismo gamer to become a successful Nissan racing driver. In 2012, the fourth season of GT Academy, Nissan and PlayStation in Germany teamed up to create a standalone competition that would run in parallel with the European version.
The qualifying stage of the competition was live online for 8 weeks throughout May and June 2012, with a staggering 96,000 German players downloading the GT Academy qualifying challenge. Only 24 online winners went through to the National Final, where they were joined by eight winners who had qualified via Live Events. The Live Events were held throughout the country at Nissan dealerships and high footfall events, giving people an alternative route into the Academy through Gran Turismo competitions on the PlayStation race sleds.
The National Final took place on 14 and 15 July 2012 at the world-famous Nürburgring. The 32 contestants were whittled down to 24 after the first day of tough Gran Turismo racing on PlayStation. More wannabe racers were eliminated after a series of gaming, driving, fitness and media tests the following day. The final 12 showed the most promise to become professional racing drivers and were invited to Race Camp in August, a week-long intensive boot camp to uncover the GT Academy Germany 2012 Champion.
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Race Camp began in style for the 12 finalists with a helicopter arrival to Silverstone, the home of British motorsport. Three judges, F1 and Le Mans racer Nick Heidfeld, Queen of the Nürburgring Sabine Schmitz and German entertainment and music star Smudo, greeted the competitors on their arrival. It was Nick, Sabine and Smudo’s job to decide which one of the hopefuls would go on to complete the three month intensive Driver Development Program before taking a seat in a Nissan 370Z GT4 car in the prestigious Dubai 24 Hour race.
The competition started with a wake-up call at dawn and an early-morning military-style fitness course. A morning spent in the muddy forest built up a team spirit between the gamers and made sure they showed their mettle straight away. They were grateful to be back in familiar territory in the afternoon, when they donned their race suits for a karting challenge - one of the purest forms of motorsport and a great way to study the contestants’ early ability. The session was disrupted by a massive thunderstorm and a sudden downpour that turned the black asphalt into a river. Everyone was recruited to clear the track of water and the racing continued.
After each set of challenges, the poorest performers were eliminated to filter the best of the best. The normal driving challenges were interspersed with some that were a little more unusual. The paintball challenge saw competitors driving around Silverstone while being chased by Nick Heidfeld, who had Smudo hanging out the passenger window armed with a paintball gun! The driver who got the furthest before being shot with a paintball won the challenge. As well as being a lot of fun, this gave Nick a close-up view of how the competitors drove under pressure and taught them to look ahead while being chased instead of constantly looking in their mirrors. Another event saw the final five take to a Stock Car venue in Milton Keynes to race against each other.
GT Academy then took to the skies, as the remaining finalists experienced a high G-Force ‘Air Battle’ in light aircraft at Turweston aerodrome. Some found it hard to deal with the incredible G-Forces, while others found it huge fun, but either way it was an exciting way for the contestants to feel the G-Forces that they’ll have to overcome when racing powerful cars.
After several elimination stages, the final four (Peter Pyzera, Andres Monzon, Patrick Langkau, Nick Sepec) faced up to each other on track for one final race in the Nissan 370Z around the Silverstone GP circuit. Nick Sepec started from pole position but missed a gear, which allowed Peter Pyzera to take the lead. Peter never looked back and was the first to take the checkered flag. This sterling performance topped an impressive week for Peter, and he was crowned the GT Academy Germany 2012 Champion.
After a whistle-stop trip back home, Peter was back at Silverstone in September to start the newest chapter in his life. Living with the Champions of the European, Russian and USA GT Academy competitions, he was put through an all-expenses-paid Driver Development Program. As well as racing every weekend in a mixture of sprint and endurance races in a Nissan 370Z, Peter’s busy schedule also included instructed track time, karting, simulator, fitness and psychology training.
The rigorous program saw him qualify for an international race license and in January 2013 Peter teamed up with his USA counterpart Steve Doherty, Sabine Schmitz and experienced Nissan driver Alex Buncombe to race in Dubai. Disaster struck for the quartet when Sabine had an off in the Nissan 370Z GT4 at the start of the night and they lost an hour and a half. But they recovered to finish a creditable ninth in class after 24 hours in the tough international race.
“This has been a really great experience and I hope it is just the first step in a long racing career for me,” said Peter after the race. “We lost a lot of time last night but we kept our focus and pushed on all the way to the flag. It was actually good for me that we lost time as I was very nervous before the race but when we lost time it made me want to get in there and fight to get it back. All we had to do today is remember everything we have been taught. It was a great experience and I want to do it again now.”