Nissan GT Academy with Sony Playstation is said by many to be the outstanding developer of race driving talent in motor racing.
In doing so it has thus far taken young men, with little or no racing experience, to the dizzy heights of the Le Mans 24hrs podium and onto GP3 racing.
Notably, Nissan GT Academy does not charge the contestants squillians of dollars to access the programme, it is wholly funded by Sony and Nissan, and is open to both men and women gameplayers.
Like small acorns producing great Oak trees, GT Academy began over a drink in a pub as a small seed of a thought, an idea, a question.
"Might it be possible to take a Sony PS3 Playstation game racer and make of him a GT racer?"
Two men, Kazunori Yamauchi, developer of the Gran Turismo game and Darren Cox, Nissan's Director of Motorsport saw the potential and then, they made it happen.
The initial 2009 Nissan GT Academy trained and produced Lucas Ordonez who went on to race in the 2011 Le Mans 24 hour and finish second in class. The online racers who entered that initial (European) GT Academy in 2009 numbered some 25,000, since then the numbers have grown as the programme has gone global.
So, how does this programme create its success? In the first instance it takes the very best, the quickest game players and flies them to Silverstone and then submits them to an intensive week of agonising physical and mental training, indeed, some might call it cruelty such are the rigours of a military assault course and physical training conducted by former Royal Marines.
Throughout the "Race Camp" programme they are introduced to an intense training programme of high speed driving skills and race craft by world class race instructors. Each day through a process of
assessment, the weaker drivers are eliminated and at the end of the week, the final drivers (6-8) have a final shootout race around the Silverstone GP circuit.
In deciding the final winner, his race performance and finish are taken into account along with his progress and his assessment by a team of judges, mentors and instructors. Thereafter the training would continue through a series of club races leading to competing in the Dubai 24hr race and, beyond.
Alpha Sport Psychology (otherwise known as Yoda and Obi-wan) joined the programme in 2010 as mind coaches to the contestants who successfully reached GT Academy "Race Camp" at Silverstone. We looked for clues into the mind set of each driver, their self image, self belief and confidence in their own ability to deliver, how they dealt with pressure. And we coached them and assessed them, and, from our assessments we suggested which drivers might win, and we got it right each time.
Interestingly those who took advantage of our presence (not all did) were those who succeeded. I say succeeded because even some of the drivers with whom we worked and who did not actually win the big prize, went home with a new image of themselves, with new conviction, drive and ambition. They went home and went racing, they, through GT Academy changed their own perceptions and discovered something about themselves.
Nissan Playstation GT Academy changed their lives and quite possibly changed the lives, in some way, of all involved in the programme, and that really is worth something.
Those with whom I worked and who became Nissan 'works' race drivers were Jordan Tresson (2010) Jann Mardenborough (Europe 2011) Bryan Heitkotter (USA 2011) Wolfgang Reip (Europe 2012) Steve Doherty (USA 2012) Mark Shultzhitskiy (Russia 2012) and Peter Pytzera (Germany 2012)
Those I worked with whose Race Camp experience led them to create their own path include, Luca Lorenzini (2010) raced in Italy, small touring cars (2011) Ginetta G50 Cup
(2012-2013) and Maserati World Series (2012) culminating in winning the Lotus Cup Italy championship of 2014.
Sean Johnston (USA 2011) raced in and won IMSA Porsche GT3 championship in his first year of racing (2012). Porsche Carrera Cup (Germany) and Porsche Super Cup 2013-2014. Sean and I have continued in working together since GT Academy 2011.
Hugo Concalves (Europe 2012) Hill Climbs during 2012-2013. Super Seven by Kia championship (2014) finishing third in championship. I have worked with Hugo since 2013.
Krystian Korzeniowski (Europe 2012) went onto race and win in the VW Castrol Cup (Poland) during 2013-2014. Working with Krystian during 2014 revealed a remarkble racing mind and ability to compete, to focus and to win.
Matt Cresci (USA 2012) Mazda MX5 championship 2014 producing some fantastic performances.
There are many more whom I have not worked with since GT Academy Race Camp, guys like Eric Rivera (USA 2012) who from being unemployed who went home having found the belief and motivation to get into racing, Eric is now out there preparing and drifting BMW's.
Philip Gough now races in the MG Metro Cup in a car he built himself having been inspired by the experience of GT Academy to realise his own ambitions and has achieved several podium finishes and driver of the race awards. He also works as a driver coach at iZone Driver Performance and for the Daniel Ricciardo Kart Series.
Some old hand in racing once said to Darren Cox that he got lucky first time out, to which he replied with words to the effect of "...and as I do more, I get luckier!"
The Nissan GT Academy program is now managed by GTA Global, a company established by former Silverstone employees Laurence Whiltshire and Martyn Smith, RJN Motorsports Bob Neville has seen his team blossom into a far larger organisation as a result of preparing the race cars and running the drivers.
Nissan GT Academy, changing lives and demonstrating the point that racers can indeed be created.