For the past four years, the world’s best driving gamers have been coming to Dubai to race in the city’s annual 24-hour endurance race. It’s been their grand prize for winning the Nissan GT Academy, which seeks to turn the best Playstation gamers into real-life racing drivers. And now, for the first time, the competition is being opened up to wannabe racers in the Middle East, who will compete for the chance to train as real racing drivers and take part in the 2013 24 Hours of Silverstone in the UK.
The GT Academy started in 2008 as a partnership between console manufacturers Sony, Polyphony Digital – creators of the Gran Turismo series of racing games – and Nissan. The concept was simple – they believed that the GT games were so realistic that a high-level player would probably be pretty handy in a real racing car.
There were many sceptics, but the competition went ahead. Thousands of Gran Turismo players from around Europe competed to get the best lap times in the game, and the fastest few went on to a boot camp in the UK. There, under the watchful eye of professional racers, they trained in real cars and were whittled down until one winner, Spaniard Lucas Ordonez, was crowned. He has since raced – and won – against professional racers around the world, and stood on the podium at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Laurence Wiltshire (above and below at the Dubai Autodrome yesterday), who is the managing director of GTA Global Limited – the firm that organises the competition – says that success has been replicated in subsequent years and could again with a Middle Eastern driver. GT Academy now has dedicated competitions in Russia, the US and Germany as well as Europe, and the Middle East competition will be open to residents of the GCC and Lebanon.
The format, which will be covered by a reality TV show, will be thus: in October, Playstation gamers will be able to download dedicated GT Academy software based on Gran Turismo 5, although they won’t need the original game to get it. That will present them with a series of racing challenges to complete over an eight-week period. The fastest 16 gamers will go through to a regional final, which will be held at the Dubai Autodrome in January.
In addition, each market in the region will also host live events over the coming months, where racers can set times in dedicated racing pods equipped with Playstation3s. The first of these will be at the GAMES12 event in Dubai this month. Each event winner will also go through to the regional final.
At the regional final, held over two days, the 25 total qualifiers will face four tests designed to whittle them down under the watchful eyes of local racing professionals (exactly who is yet to be confirmed). This will involve gaming against each other rather than the clock, fitness tests, media skill assessments and, of course, driving, in auto tests using Nissan 370Zs (with all the traction controls turned off).
Eight winners will then be taken to the Silverstone circuit in March – home of the British Formula One Grand Prix – where they will battle contestants from another market in a much more intensive race camp for a single title, again under tutelage and observation from professional racing drivers.
And what awaits the winner? A period of intensive race coaching and development, and plenty of racing to build up to International C Licence level in three months, compared to the years that most racers take. But it’s needed for the 24 Hours of Silverstone, which happens in late 2013 and attracts some of the best racers in the world. The winners will join a team in racing a 370Z race car and, if previous winners are anything to go by, a glittering racing career awaits.
The GT Academy is open to all GCC and Lebanon residents over the age of 18 that hold a current driving licence and haven’t raced cars at national level for more than a year. For more information, follow GT Academy on Facebook.
- Shots courtesy of Nissan GT Academy