Debrief over, I slide into the Recaro behind the PS3 wheel, Salman doing likewise in the other pod. On the screen in front of me is a POV view from the cabin of a virtual Nissan GT-R, complete with rearview mirror, speedometer and odometer, fuel gauge, a map of the circuit, and even a G-reading. My GT prowess clearly precedes me, since the driver aids – including ABS, traction control, and the system that provides braking distances and optimum line through the corners – have been turned off.
I take a few sighter laps around the selected battlefield: the Nurburgring Grand Prix layout. Through the first few corners, the twitchiness of the steering wheel is quite extraordinary as power is sent to the ‘wheels’ when I accelerate. The short-shift gearlever takes some getting used to: while I agree with the ‘upshift is down, downshift is up’ configuration, second nature compels me to do the reverse. The main problem though concerns braking. Using my right foot only locks the front wheels and causes the front end of the GT-R to crunch against the Armco several times. Left foot braking takes a bit of practice but at least means I can feather the throttle rather than jumping from pedal-to-pedal, corner-to-corner. Practice over, it’s time for the duel, for which all of the Nissan GT Academy team has come over to watch. Salman counts us down: 3-2-1-Go.
My first lap doesn’t go brilliantly, as I botch a few too many lines through the tighter corners and once or twice dip my wheels over the rumble strips, the sudden loss of grip causing my car to spin out abruptly. My second lap is even worse, and the red mist descends. Come on James, stop messing around. You can do this.
Now I’ve really got the hammer down. I remember Salman’s advice, and feed the power in gently after braking hard down the main straight. Clipping the apex at turn one, I keep the steering smooth and try to look past turn two to the tightening left hander past Mercedes Arena, though this proves difficult on a TV screen. It seems to be working though, and I hit the Ford Kurve and Dunlop much smoother and faster than I’ve managed hitherto. I’m now flicking the short shoft gearlever with my fingers in order to keep both hands on the wheel, feathering the throttle rather than downshifting for the Schumacher S as I have been doing until now. This is a much more impressive lap, and through the RTL Kurve left hander with only a quarter of the lap to go, I starting picturing the chequered flag, my dignity salvaged.
Which is a mistake. My attention momentarily elsewhere, I accidentally shift up rather than down through the Warsteiner Kurve. I’m carrying far too much momentum through the sweeping right hander and can do nothing to stop the front end washing wide into the gravel trap. I manage to rejoin, and cross the line in 2m 11.944s. This is more than 16s faster than my first practice lap, and without the mistake I might even have been on for a 2m 08s. But what of the rookie? Have I beaten him?
No. Not even close. Salman’s fastest lap is 2m 03.463s, and even without my mistake, he is still a good five seconds per lap faster than I am. Not only that, but the consistency of his laptimes is incredible: his opening practice lap is only half a second slower than his best.
I’ve been trounced, completely, totally and absolutely. And I’m in no way surprised. Salman after all has been through months of endurance tests, both physical and mental. He’s been driven by a passion to compete and has worked hard and practiced meticulously to hone his skills and prove to the world that a Playstation gamer really can race competitively. Over a congratulatory handshake, Salman mentions that his dream is to one day stand on the podium at Le Mans. I hope one day he can realise that dream.
As for me, it’s back to the crankandpiston office to face a sea of barbs and digs from the team. But then I remember Jonathan’s words about Academy participants who go on to have a successful motorsport career, despite not beating the winner.
Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.
|VR38DETT / V6 / 3799cc
|545hp @ 6400rpm
|463lb ft @ 5200rpm
|Dual clutch sequential six-speed rear transaxle / magnesium paddle shifters / gear pre-selection / rear transaxle ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive
|Large-diameter hollow stabilizer bar / independent double wishbone aluminum / integral tube-frame structure / six-point mounting / Bilstein DampTronic mono-tube shock absorbers / computer controlled / three-position driver adjustable
|Large-diameter hollow stabilizer bar / independent multi-link aluminum suspension / integral tube-frame structure / six-point mounting / aluminum upper and lower links (spherical bearing design) / Bilstein DampTronic mono-tube shock absorbers / computer controlled / three-position driver adjustable
|Brembo full-floating / vented and drilled rotors / six piston monoblock calipers 15.35 x 1.3in (front) / four piston monoblock calipers 15.0 x 1.2in (rear) / ABS / EBD BA
|20 x 9.5 inches (front) / 20 x 10.5 inches (rear)
|Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 ultra high performance run-flat tires / 255/40 ZRF20 (front) / 285/35 ZRF20 (rear)