There is one other core market however that Nissan is exploring: female Academy winners. Like its real world counterpart, virtual motorsport is largely male-centric with only Faiza Al Kindi’s performance in last year’s competition the exception to the rule. That’s not to say though that enthusiastic female gamers can’t buck the trend.
“The Middle East was a great ambassador for exactly that point because for the very first time, a female made it to the national final stage. Unfortunately Faiza didn’t quite make the cut for Race Camp, and as much as we’d love it for a female to win GT Academy one day, it’s got to be fair. But we’ve changed the perception of gamers to racers and what’s possible for drivers from the Middle East. So why not go one step further? There’s no reason at all that we couldn’t see a female winner of GT Academy.”
Throughout our conversation, one word has sprung up several times, and in itself raises a good point: ‘winner’. Single, not plural. Motorsport is littered with examples of drivers and teams parting ways mid-contract and of drivers losing interest altogether: even Josh Hill, for whom doors would surely have opened in Formula 1 thanks to the legacy of father Damon (’96 World Champion) and grandfather Graham (‘62/’68 World Champion), decided to hang up his helmet in favour of a music career. Would it not make more sense surely for a reserve ambassador to be waiting in the wings should Nissan’s Academy winner decide to quit?
“Well that’s never happened. Part of the selection process is checking that the winner does have the right dedication to the programme. Once the guys get into the Driver Development Program and realise what an opportunity they have and what is possible, there are not many people that are going to turn their back on it.”
The possibility is still there though. Indeed, the danger of simply casting aside those who came so close yet so far in the final, remains enormous. Those who don’t make the cut could just as easily vent their frustration in Nissan’s direction…
“Obviously in any competition the downside is that you’re only going to have one winner. You push the guys hard, and there’s always that pressure to win, but it’s also a fantastic prize just taking part in the event. I would like to think that everyone who takes part in GT Academy leaves with memories, things they will talk about for many years to come. I’m sure they’re disappointed, but I think overall it’s a positive experience.”
A wealth of possibilities on the horizon, but after five years the goal remains the same for the GT Academy. An all-Academy car – driven by Ordonez, Mardenborough, Tresson and Brian Heitkotter, the inaugural US GT Academy winner – took a class podium at the 2012 Dubai 24 Hours. The dream is to emulate that result at Le Mans. And then improve upon it.
“The ultimate ambition of GT Academy when it started back in 2008 was to win Le Mans with a car full of gamers. But it’s not a fast process. It takes time to develop these guys’ skills to get them from gamer to racer. We’re now waiting for more guys to come through and maybe one day that will be possible.”
How Nissan finds these Le Mans aspirants is another matter. There is, after all, a whole world to choose from.