GT Academy 2010 was the second installment of this unique competition which uses the Gran Turismo®5 game to find a real-world racing driver. In 2008/09, Lucas Ordoñez, a 23-year-old Spanish student, graduated from his PlayStation®3 to become a full-on racing driver through the GT Academy. Now the aim was to show that Lucas’ success was only the start. An intensive race training program and a season-long drive in a Nissan 370Z in the European GT4 Cup was the ultimate prize up for grabs.
The 2010 competition was even bigger than before, open to participants from 17 countries including Australia and New Zealand. From December 2009 to January 2010, over 1.1 million entrants downloaded the GT5™ time-trial to their PS3™ via PlayStation®Network. They recorded timed laps in two virtual cars – a standard Nissan 370Z and a race-tuned version.
The holders of the twenty fastest online times from each country qualified for National Final events. This pitted them against each other on various GT5 tracks to select the fastest gamers from each country to proceed to the next phase; a five-day comprehensive race driver ‘boot camp’ at the world famous Silverstone Circuit.
In February 2010, 18 finalists headed to Silverstone. Here they developed new driving skills in an array of cars, including the Nissan 370Z and GT-R, while also being judged on fitness and mental attitude. On hand to guide and train the competitors was an international team of experienced race instructors headed by Rob Barff. Rob was also a judge alongside former F1 boss Eddie Jordan, F1 and Le Mans-winner Johnny Herbert, and two-time Nürburgring 24 Hour winner Sabine Schmitz. The judging panel faced a tough job to reduce the field from 18 down to the final two over the course of the five days.
A wide variety of driving challenges were completed during the week. The hopefuls tried their hand at karting and single-seaters, as well as experiencing everything from dog fights to drifting in the Nissan 370Z. They also had opportunity to take the wheel of the Nissan GT-R in race mode, with Johnny Herbert driving behind in a second GT-R with his old team-boss Eddie Jordan in the passenger seat to scrutinize their racing lines at close quarters... sometimes inches! As well as being able to assess the drivers, this exercise proved useful for putting the drivers under pressure with Herbert all over their tails at high speed.
“I’m staggered by the standard,” explained Eddie Jordan after first seeing the gamers on a real racing track. “I didn’t believe that it was possible for people from the virtual world to have that relationship with the car. They are undoubtedly the best on PlayStation 3, but to come here and display such immediate talent, speed, commitment and understanding is impressive!”
The final decision was tough for the judges. Of the final four, Jordan excelled in fitness, Luca was incredibly fast, Daniel showed continuous improvement and Marco shone in the wet conditions. But, it was Luca Lorenzini and Jordan Tresson who most impressed the judges with their talent, determination and ability.
After only a short break, both drivers returned to the UK for an intensive two-month driver training program under the expert tutelage of RJN Motorsport, to qualify them for an international racing license while teaching them invaluable race-craft and technique.
Ultimately there was only one place available for the driver with the most potential to compete internationally, and Jordan Tresson was chosen as the overall GT Academy 2010 champion. An impressive first season of racing behind the wheel of a Nissan 370Z in the European GT4 Cup saw Jordan score two podiums on the way to 4th place in the drivers’ championship. He then graduated to the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2011 and a Le Mans 24 Hours race seat with Signatech-Nissan in 2012, proving that Lucas’ success wasn’t a one-off and GT Academy really can use PlayStation® and Gran Turismo® to unearth new real-world racing talent.