With the introduction of the Nissan GT Academy, there’s now an opportunity of a lifetime for budding racing drivers in India. We head to the international finals in the UK to see if the Indian team could hold its own against the international competition.
In a country largely bereft of opportunities for budding racing drivers, the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy comes across as a breath of fresh air – providing an opportunity for aspirants to make a mark in the world of motorsports on a global stage. If you’re looking to make a career in motorsports, here’s a competition that doesn’t need you to be professionally trained, nor does it need you to have a racing car or have the backing of a sponsor – all you need is a PlayStation gaming console, and some mastery of the Gran Turismo 6 racing simulation game.
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Things start to get properly tough as you progress through the competition. In fact, it can be downright gruelling – as we saw at the International Race Camp of the 2014 GT Academy held in England. While there are multiple rounds held in different countries, the International Race Camp consisted of five territories – Australia, Mexico, Thailand, the Middle East and India. So, for the five finalists from India (the sixth finalist, Akshay Gupta, couldn’t make it due to personal reasons) had their work cut out for them.
There was also the task of tackling the myriad of challenges that had been laid out by the GT Academy team. In fact, a commonly misplaced notion about the whole concept is that the GT Academy only rates an aspirant on his or her gaming skills on Gran Turismo 6. In reality, as you advance through the program, the challenges become multi-fold and most certainly include testing your skills at the wheel of an actual car. As a matter of fact, the judges gave as much weightage to driving skill as they did to all the other skills necessary to be a successful racing driver in a competitive industry.
Therefore, the competitors had to run through a battery of tests and challenges over the weeklong event to make a mark and progress further. First, they were judged on physical fitness and hand-eye coordination. It started with medical tests and a complete fitness analysis on day zero of the competition. On day two, the real challenge began as the teams were thrown straight into the deep end of a two kilometre assault course – which presented them with mud, fire, and various other obstacles that would not only highlight the fitness of each individual but also how they would perform as a team. This is a vital quality, for instance, if you wish to be a driver in an international endurance racing series for example.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highly-rated Australian team excelled in the competition – not only due to their individual fitness levels, but also some dedicated teamwork. The Indian team, unfortunately, didn’t exactly excel owing to their poor fitness standards – a liability that was highlighted during the India finals held in Jaipur. The sole exception to this was Prakash Nair, a 42-year old who was the fittest and most determined of the lot.
The competitors also went through a variety of driving challenges in specially designed programs. For instance, their driving skills were tested in a Caterham – in the wet! Not an easy task by any stretch, and one that required the Indian team to adapt fast. This was followed by a ‘Traffic Challenge,’ where the competitors were required to overtake as many cars (driven by experts) as they could around the Stowe Circuit at Silverstone – thereby giving them an experience of what overtaking in a race environment would feel like. As the days passed, the challenges only got tougher.
Accompanying the competitors at each of these stages was their mentor and judge – in India’s case it was racing driver Karun Chandok – who advised them on their technique, their strengths, and where they needed to improve.
With the completion of each stage, there was a daily elimination of one competitor from each team – based on who the mentor and other judges thought was the weakest link. And, once again, the judging was not only the basis of their performance on the track, but on their overall aptitude, their desire to succeed, and, perhaps most importantly, how quickly they were able to adapt to new challenges.
Before we get to the final results, you ought to know about Luca Ordonez to understand the enormity of the opportunity at hand. Luca is the 2008 winner of the competition. He’s been racing successfully since then, and currently competes in the Super GT series in Japan. And then there’s 2011 winner Jann Mardenborough, who currently competes in the GP3 series – which is a feeder series to Formula 1. So, the opportunity to form a career from this is very real. The winner, after all, is promoted straight to a race drive in the Dubai 24 Hour race.
And I think that’s where the competitors from India faltered most. Sure, their lack of experience in high-performance cars like the GT-R and 370Z, which they were piloting for many of these tests, was a liability. But, more than that, they neglected to grasp the enormity of the opportunity presented to them by Nissan.
But, we shouldn’t forget the dedication of eventual winner Ricardo Sanchez from Mexico, who demonstrated great determination and skill to outperform the other 26 competitors to take the title – I look forward to watching his performance in the 2015 24 Hours of Dubai. Of course, I hope this serves as a lesson for the next generation of GT Academy winners from India to train harder and be single-minded in their quest to succeed – because, given the current state of Indian motorsports, this could be their golden ticket to international success.