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Nürburgring 24 Hour Race 2012 (1/2)

Part 1: The Road to the Race

Team GT Academy’s GT-R on the line at Nissan’s Tochigi factory. The car’s paint color is Aurora Flare Blue Pearl.
On April 10, the GT-R began a three-day shakedown test at the SUGO Circuit in Japan…but this was only the beginning.
Mid-April: The first GT Academy winner, Lucas Ordonez (right) meets with Kazunori Yamauchi at the Nürburgring, and the team starts to take shape.
It’s April, but the chill of winter still lingers at the Nürburgring. Despite the poor weather conditions, testing commences. In this photo, the GT-R rests in pit lane of the Nordschleife (North Course) where automakers often gauge the performance limits of their cars.
Lucas in the car, positioning the seats.

“Would you like to drive in the 24 Hours Nürburgring this year with a GT Academy Graduate?”

The proposal to compete in the 2012 running of the German endurance-race classic came from Nissan Motor Company Europe, the co-sponsor of Gran Turismo’s GT Academy. Directing the effort was none other than Kazunori Yamauchi.

Four highly-skilled and successful professional racing drivers have already emerged from the GT Academy, the racing driver training project that utilizes Gran Turismo. To have a graduate of the famous program race together with Yamauchi would be a new element for both Gran Turismo and GT Academy.

Kazunori Yamauchi’s 24 Hours Nürburgring adventure began when he accepted the offer to join the team.

The GT Academy graduate selected to be Kazunori’s teammate was the first European winner, Lucas Ordonez. Lucas is now a distinguished driver, having become the 2010 FIA GT GT4 Class Champion and achieving a well-earned 2nd place in the LMP Class in the 2011 Le Mans 24-Hour race.

Kazunori had said before that Lucas was an excellent choice, both as a race driver and as a person. Lucas and Kazunori would team up with drivers Tobias Schulze and Yasukichi Yamamoto (who raced with Kazunori in last year’s 24 Hours Nürburgring) to make up “Team GT Academy.” Their mission: To wreak havoc on the competition.

As the team took shape, the development of this year’s racecar was performed by Nissan Motor Company’s GT-R development team led by Mr. Kazutoshi Mizuno. Because tweaks were minimal—in fact, the racecar was virtually identical to the production-model Club Track Edition—winning even its class would be a challenge for Team GT Academy.

Team GT Academy’s GT-R came off of the production line on February 2, 2012. The car was immediately taken to a workshop in the Kanagawa prefecture, where the car was stripped of its creature comforts and reinforcements and safety equipment added.

The reborn race-ready GT-R took to the racetrack for the first time on April 10, at the Sugo Circuit in the Miyagi prefecture. Kazunori Yamauchi and Yasukichi Yamamoto joined in on this shakedown process, working feverishly to grasp the characteristics of the car and eliminate teething problems during three full days of testing.

But at this point, the car was still just a newly hatched fledgling. Serious testing started when the GT-R was flown to the Nürburgring and handed over to Team GT Academy. In mid-April, Yamauchi Kazunori and the software engineers of Gran Turismo headed to Germany to begin searching for the optimal setup for the challenging 24-hour race.

To set up a racecar, a test drive is first performed where vehicle data is recorded and driver feedback collected. All the data is analyzed, and changes are made. (In the GT-R’s case, engineers made modifications to the suspension and aerodynamic settings.) Then, the car heads back out onto the track for more test driving. This cycle is repeated over and over. Discussions are held between engineers and suppliers on a daily basis.

In early May, the GT-R was taken 400-km away to Stuttgart, to undergo a very thorough 7-post rig test in order to find the optimum damper characteristics and spring ratios. Meanwhile, the drivers were busy running race simulation programs to become more familiar with the track and car. Many people may not realize that more than just mechanical tuning of the vehicle is needed to achieve success when the green flag drops; race simulation plays a vital role in an endurance contest like the 24 Hours Nürburgring. This is where key factors required to win are calculated, such as how engine RPM affects fuel economy; how fuel consumption relates to the number of laps; the relationship between tire grip and lap times, and how much the amount of fuel taken onboard translates to time lost in the pits. Once all the data is crunched from the simulations, the team can create a game plan that will give it the best chance of attaining their ultimate goal, winning.

In this comprehensive setup and simulation process, a specially-developed version of Gran Turismo was used. During the GT-R’s development stage, this program greatly improved the efficiency of vehicle testing. And as a result, the Gran Turismo engineers benefitted greatly from the experience—the process for finding optimal settings for a real-life racing car provided them with tremendous amounts of data and gave them a new insight on high-performance racecar engineering.

On May 14, days before the race, Team GT Academy performed its last driving test, optimizing the car’s settings and specs. Eye-catching decals were applied to the car, completing the formal race car attire. Six months after the launch of the team, and after many hours of dedicated hard work inspired by the passion of team supporters, Team GT Academy was ready to rock.

* Related images include images through to the end of the race.

Nürburgring 24 Hour Race 2012 (2/2)