In 2008 GT Academy was an experiment, the results of which Nissan and PlayStation could not truly anticipate. Could they take a gamer who was fast in Gran Turismo 5 and turn him into a real racing driver? From a huge pool of gamers they whittled it down until they found Lucas Ordóñez, who has since turned into a real star on the track with podiums, wins and a lot of success, including partnering with the Brundles at Le Mans this year.
Clearly there was something to this, and GT Academy has gone from strength to strength ever since then with Jordan Tresson of France, Jann Mardenborough from Britain and Bryan Heitkotter from the USA being inducted into the ranks in 2010 and 2011. 2012 is set to be the biggest group yet and it’s extending well into the future with an exclusive competition attached to the Academy Edition of GT5.
But for the rest of us, those that aren’t fast enough in the game to make it, what is it like to step into a real Nissan 370z or GT-R and take it around the track?
Bright and early in the morning, a group of us sat down and were given the basics of what we needed to do when driving these cars. Funnily enough, the same kinds of things that you can take into Gran Turismo 5 (with a wheel), where you want to keep a handle on the weight distribution of the car.
Brake in a line, roll off the brakes as you start to turn the wheel in a single motion, hold the speed through the corner as you try to hit the apex and then put your foot down as you straighten the car back out.
James, TSA’s closest thing to a Stig, and I each went out in the 370z first around the little Stowe circuit. A nice little car, which people beyond 6’3” like myself will struggle to fit in, but despite its size it packs a wallop with 340BHP.
To learn the track with and try and get up to speed, everyone had an instructor alongside them and the track perimeter was marked with a series of cones for braking points, turning points and the apex, or clipping point. It gave a kind of real world representation of a racing line and allowed us to pick up the best line quite quickly.
There was always room for improvement though, particularly into the hard braking points at the end of the straights and a constant drip feed of pointers and tips from the instructor helped us go faster through the speedy series of corners in the back half of the track, smooth the turning and so on.
After a few laps it was time to head back in, and next up it was being driven around in a souped up GT-R with the Track Pack by Chris Ward, part of RJN Motorsport and team mates with Jann Mardenborough. A few people had already come back quite ashen faced, and you could hear tyres squealing through corners so I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when he came out of the pit lane seemingly absolutely on the limit right away.[drop]
This was on a whole other level of driving, and really showed off what the car could do. Huge acceleration into even the first hairpin, through which Chris slid the back end, causing the GT-R’s various assists to try and find grip and making the car judder.
Then back onto the power down the back straight before stamping hard on the brakes, throwing you forwards with a lot of force (Always wear a seatbelt, kids) and then dancing through a series of four 90º corners with lateral forces pushing you from side to side as he nailed every rumbling kerb into another hairpin and another big acceleration down the pit straight.
The car pushed like this was so hugely impressive. The first little chicane and all of the corners just show that the car has huge amounts of grip, and in the right hands feels like it is absolutely glued to the road no matter what is asked of it, The GT-R is a big and heavy car yet somehow manages to feel light footed and nimble on the racetrack to an extent that it seems to defy the laws of physics!
But then it’s time to step into the GT-R for ourselves and see what we can do with it. Right away, we both felt like we were redoubling our efforts and pushing the car a fair bit harder. Accelerating harder, braking later and even though a million miles away from what Chris was doing, trying to build up the confidence to get closer to the edge.
It was quite simply a hell of a lot of fun. Neither of us had driven a car of this quality in anger on a track, and what it felt like to do so was beyond even James’ expectations.
Taking this back to GT5, it actually shows how good a representation the GT-R in game is. I’m certainly no expert next to James when it comes to the finer details, but his impressions were that the GT-R in the game was responsive under braking, it really wants to turn and feels quite loose at the back on turn in, then as soon as you get on the throttle everything tightens up and the car exits with no drama. Going over to the real car these characteristics were definitely there, with the car having fantastic turn in and rotation whilst feeling totally safe under hard acceleration, even when coming out of a hairpin.
The biggest differences from game to car were in the forces and the sight. There’s no preparing you in a game for what your body experiences when under braking, acceleration or turning other than to do so for real.
But the biggest challenge in my view to turn from a gamer to a racing driver is the ability to put the car on the edge time and time again. Both in terms of mentality and physicality, it’s pretty clear that all the GT Academy winners are a step above almost all gamers in being able to adapt to track driving and the fitness levels required so quickly.
The next opportunity to get driving for real via GT5 is the GT5 Academy Edition, out on the 26th of September. It features all of the existing GT5 content and DLC for £19.99, but also includes access to an exclusive competition in January to win a track day at Silverstone and a discount voucher for GT Boutique.