How do you go from being a gamer to a racing driver? We asked Salman Al-Khater from Qatar, the first winner of Nissan GT Academy Middle East, for his ten top tips for making the jump ‘from virtual to reality’.
1) Practice. A lot!
“I’m a huge Gran Turismo fan. I’ve been playing the first Gran Turismo since 1997, and I’ve played every single one since.
“After I qualified for the regionals, I was relieved, but then I realised that the competition is just going to get tougher and tougher. So I kept pushing. I pushed here in Dubai in the regional finals, went to Silverstone for Race Camp, and it got even tougher over there.”
2) Try your hand at grass roots motorsport, but keep an ear to the ground
“In the Middle East I did a lot of karting. I never bought my own kart, but you had to buy some sort of vehicle. So I bought a car back home, we had local races and I competed in two of them, but it was too expensive. I borrowed some money from friends, and two races later I couldn’t do it!
“In 2008 I heard about GT Academy in Europe. I never really thought it would come to the Middle East, until 2012 when there were announcements everywhere about GT Academy Middle East.”
3) Keep a spare Playstation with you, just in case
“I was actually out of the country [when Nissan announced GT Academy Middle East], so I went and bought another Playstation and another steering wheel so I could qualify.”
4) Make sure your family is on side and willing to do the paperwork
“I have to give credit to my family. Without the support of my wife Walaa and my mother, father, brothers, it would have been a lot harder. They really gave me the support. They said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything, you focus on your racing’.”
5) Stock up on British Grand Prix race reviews…
“Silverstone is a village. It doesn’t have that many houses and it’s got one shop! So it’s very quiet. But I’ve watched all the previous races on TV. Suddenly you’re like, ‘woah, I’m going through Copse, or Maggotts, Becketts’. And it’s just an amazing feeling.”
6) … but don’t forget the home crowd
“For me it’s an honour to represent the Middle East. The pressure is there of course, to represent the region, the GT Academy, Nissan and Sony all in the best way possible. But in the Middle East and Qatar, we don’t have anybody that’s really into circuit racing. So I’m very proud, and I want to help this sport grow.”
7) Remember: on-track there’s no reset button
“It’s really unfortunate that we recently lost one of the good guys, Allan Simonsen, and all my feelings towards his family. But I don’t think it’s changed my mind. I used to work at a gasworks: that was dangerous. Walking out on the street: that for me is dangerous. The danger is just part of racing, and it’s what creates the excitement. Y’know, being on that edge.”
8) Consider the guys who’ve been there, done that…
9) … then beat them
“You’ve got to have that inspiration or want to be the best. I think without that want, you’re really not going to achieve that much. Lucas has that want, Jann has that want, and we all want to be the best. We all want to beat each other.”
“I can say I’ve achieved my first dream, and that is my motorsport career. Really that is just the beginning. When I won GT Academy, it was a sense of relief, and when I started…I just know this is just the beginning. Looking towards the future, I hope to be the winner at Le Mans. The final dream is to one day be World Champion. If I could someday realise that, I’d be the happiest person in the world.”