Nissan has announced that four of its GT Academy gaming graduates will compete in this year's Le Mans 24 Hours race. These include the first "virtual-to-real" race driver Lucas Ordoñez and GT Academy Russia 2012 winner Mark Shulzhitsky, who has recently worked with Onroak Automotive on the development of the new Ligier JS P2 he'll be driving.
The GT Academy was set up in 2008 as a means of developing potential racing talent amongst gamers. The program is a collaboration between the developers of Gran Turismo and Nissan. Online qualifier competitions are held within Gran Turismo and the winners go through to national finals. Winners of the national finals then go on to participate in a Race Camp held at Silverstone, UK. The overall winner is put through a driver development program before going on to race on tracks around the world.
Lucas Ordoñez graduated from GT Academy Europe in 2008 and is now an established real-world racer, having taken second spot in the 2009 GT4 Cup, achieved a podium finish at Le Mans, won the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series and driven the Nissan DeltaWing to its first ever finish coming fifth in the 1000-mile 2012 Petit Le Mans race.
Ordoñez will be joined by the winner of GT Academy Europe 2012 Wolfgang Reip and Japanese racer Satoshi Motoyama. They will compete out of "Garage 56" in Nissan's ZEOD RC electric racer.
Joining Nissan regular Alex Brundle, son of former F1 racer Martin, in a Ligier JS P2 will be GT Academy winners Jann Mardenborough and Mark Shulzhitsky. Mardenborough, who is now racing single-seaters, made his Le Mans debut last year having been a GT Academy finalist in 2011. Shulzhitsky, meanwhile, has been working as a test driver for the Ligier JS P2 and will be racing at Le Mans for the first time.
The Ligier JS P2 has been in development since last year and is the first racing car to be designed entirely in-house by Onroak Automotive. It features an XTRAC 626 six-speed sequential gearbox and will be powered by the NISMO-tuned Nissan VK45DE V8 engine that kicks out 450 hp (335 kW).
Nissan is proud of the VK45DE, calling it, "a very successful project for the company." It is also pleased with the success of its GT Academy driver search and development program and points to its ability to field four graduates at Le Mans as testament to its quality.
"What started as a one-off project six years ago has become a real route into a top-flight motorsport career for these drivers," said Darren Cox, Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales, NISMO. "GT Academy continues to grow and, as we spread the net wider into countries such as India, Australia, Mexico and Thailand, we are continuing to unearth real racing talent that would otherwise have stayed in the virtual world."