By now most people have heard the first installment of the remarkable rise to prominence of Spanish virtual-to-real racing driver Lucas Ordonez. Four years ago, Lucas was an MBA student who liked playing Gran Turismo on his Playstation. He entered a contest among Gran Turismo's 60 million players, won the opportunity amongst 20 others to drive a real race car and try out for a spot in the Dubai 24 Hour race. He won the challenge, and he's been on the podium in almost every race since, leveraged his opportunity into a full-time racing career. As I write this, they're warming up his car for the first practice session of the world's most famous race - the Le Mans 24 Hour. Whatsmore, based on his recent results, he stands a good chance of winning! That's him in the centre, with the big trophy. Geeks interested in following the fortunes of one of their own can follow the links to track Lucas in the weekend's big race.
My previous article in early March chronicled Ordonez' exploits over the last three years to the beginning of this season when he stepped up to a genuine purpose-built endurance sports car in the form of a Nissan-engined Oreca 03.
The LMP2-class Oreca has a carbon fiber monocoque chassis and runs a 4,494cc DOHC, four-valve-per-cylinder Nissan VK45DE V8 with 500 PS (490 hp) and 52 kg·m (380 ft·lbf) of torque, running through an Xtrac six-speed sequential transmission. Like the chassis, the brakes are also carbon fibre (though of Brembo manufacture) and the whole package comes in at a featherweight 900kg.
The first race of the 2011 season for Oronez' Signatech Nissan team was in late March at the 12 Hours of Sebring, held at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, USA.
From the outset, the Signatech team was the team to beat in the LMP2 class, running three seconds a lap faster than any other team in class during qualifying, but a series of problems with gearbox software saw the team surrender the lead several times - a lead that was at one stage more than ten laps turned into second place at the flag. Clearly, the big message from the first race was that the Signatech team has the car speed to win.
The next test for the Sigatech team was test day at the Le Mans circuit in late April. It was the only Le Mans test prior to race week, and at the end of the day, the Signatech Nissan was the fastest of the LMP2 cars, some 15 seconds ahead of the Ferrari F458 Italia sports cars in the GTE-Pro class and around 15 seconds a lap behind the LMP1 cars headed by the brutally fast Audi and Peugeot turbo-diesels.
The second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) was the 1000 kilometres of Spa, held at the picturesque Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium - coincidentally, Ordonez' favourite circuit on the Playstation. Ironically, another extreme bout of bad luck cost the team yet another win, yet by the end of the weekend, Ordonez had confirmed that what he liked in the virtual world was also what he liked in the real world - during the course of the event, the real world circuit became his favourite too.
The team qualified third, but during the race set the fastest lap and took the lead before a five lap pit stop dropped it to the rear of the field. At that point team tactics were revised and Lucas was sent out for a double stint to get him accustomed to the car. In this period the Signatech climbed from 35th place to 15th position (overall), finally taking fifth place in the LMP2 class. Once again, the team was fastest for long enough to confirm that should the gremlins stay away, it was competitive enough to take first place in the fabled Le Mans 24 Hour.
It's a fairy story that I'll be following throughout the weekend, and no doubt, so will many other aspiring gamers. Best of luck to you Lucas - we're with you!