Whilst it's true that you can learn track layouts and racing lines from computer simulations, actual race pressures - particularly in a 24 hour race - can't be simulated at all. This team of playstation gamers seem to have found this out the hard way; when your car breaks down in a game you can just hit reset and carry on, in real life it's not that easy! Still, the gamers do have talent. Heitkotter and Mardenborough recently took part in a round of the Welsh Sports and Saloon championship at Pembrey and came away with podium finishes up against some much more powerful machinery (Including the returning Alvin Powell in his ex BTCC Ford Mondeo Super Tourer, and David Krayem's Ginetta G50). Admittedly the WSSC is not quite the same league as Britcar, but still the talent is there. It's doubly unfortunate that the talent of the drivers has been hobbled by a rare mechanical failure on the well prepared Nissans. Still, Here's how they got on at the Britcar 24 hours last weekend.
The Nissan PlayStation® GT Academy endured a challenging time at the Britcar 24 Hours (1/2 October 2011). After qualifying a strong seventh overall , second in class, for the Silverstone endurance event the RJN Motorsport run 420bhp Nissan 370Z GT4 race car was running in a competitive fourth place early on.
Experienced Nissan driver Alex Buncombe handed over to latest European GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough who was quickly recording competitive lap times. But as the 20-year-old started his fifth lap, the car lost all oil pressure and coasted to a halt. It was disappointing for Chris Ward and American GT Academy winner Bryan Heitkotter who despite showing impressive practice pace didn’t get to race.
The 370Z was recovered to the pits where the RJN Motorsport mechanics elected to retire the car. “We were looking good for a strong finish,” said team principal Bob Neville. “This is only our second retirement in 26 races this season so we’re not used to this kind of disappointment, especially as the car was so competitive during qualifying and the start of the race.”
Jann Mardenborough added: “It’s disappointing but you have to take the rough with the smooth and I have been lucky enough to experience many highs since winning GT Academy. I can also take encouragement from today, having put in some good lap times both in the heat of the day and in the dark.”
The weekend did end up being a celebration for GT Academy. The first gamer-to-racer champion Lucas Ordoñez and his Signatech Nissan teammates won the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup LMP2 title after a strong finish in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, USA. The result continues the fairytale story for the Spaniard who has proved the full potential of the GT Academy programme.
Having already qualified for their ‘International C race licence’, the latest GT Academy graduates Jann and Bryan are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ordoñez. The pair will start preparing for their next race in Zandvoort, Holland, on 15/16 October, as they continue their driver development programme for their main prize – entry into the Dubai 24 Hours in January 2012.