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Eye of Riyadh
Cars & Autos | Wednesday 14 January, 2015 3:00 pm |


The NISMO PlayStation® GT Academy continued its legacy of unearthing real racing talent from the world of PlayStation®’s Gran Turismo game yesterday when an all-gamer line-up finished the 2015 Dubai 24 Hours race in second position in the top Pro-Am class, a stunning fifth overall.
Competing in the full race-spec 550bhp Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the prestigious international race was the ultimate prize for four GT Academy 2014 winners - Gaëtan Paletou (France), Ahmed Bin-Khanen (Saudi Arabia), Ricardo Sánchez  (Mexico) and Nicholas Hammann (USA). The impressive result comes after only three months of intensive training in GT Academy’s cutting-edge Driver Development Programme. The new drivers were joined in the race by 2013 GT Academy Germany winner, Florian Strauss – the team’s ‘professional’ with a full 18-months of racing experience.
The tenth running of the Dubai 24 Hours was the first taste of international racing for the latest crop of GT Academy champions and the first time that the gamer-to-racer competition’s winners have raced in Dubai in the premier A6 category. The gamers proved once again to be up to the challenge putting in a disciplined, controlled, mature and, most importantly, quick performance to take to the podium. They were only beaten in the Pro-Am class by a team that included two professional drivers, one of whom was GT Academy judge Rob Barff.
The ‘veteran’ Strauss had qualified the #23 car 14th overall and first in the Pro-Am class on Thursday and it was down to him to make Friday’s race start in a packed grid of 95 cars. Strauss handed over to European winner Gaëtan Paletou before Middle East winner Ahmed Bin-Khanen took the car into Dubai’s dusk. International winner Ricardo Sánchez and North American champion Nick Hammann raced their first stints in the darkness of the 5.39km circuit.
The GT Academy team’s fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout the night with some unlucky timing on driver changes and a couple of drive-through penalties costing them time. But when the sun came up, Nick handed over to Florian who put in a charge and took the car to P2 in class, fifth overall. Gaëtan consolidated the position handing over to Ricardo with a five-lap buffer over their nearest rivals. The team orders then came through to bring the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 home safely and, fittingly, it was senior partner Florian Strauss who took the chequered flag in the fourth 24-hour race of his 18-month motorsport career.

Dubai is a major step towards professional racing for GT Academy winners. The race allows them to show off the skills first displayed on the Gran Turismo® game for PlayStation®3 and then honed by top experts in driving, race craft, fitness and psychology on the comprehensive, fast-track GT Academy Driver Development Programme. Those that display the right speed, aptitude and potential may be lucky enough to be invited to become NISMO Athletes, joining the likes of Strauss, Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordoñez as key components in Nissan’s burgeoning motorsport programme.
Darren Cox, Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales, NISMO added: “What a performance. Twenty four hour races are generally a rollercoaster of drama and excitement combined with severe fatigue. However, it is testament to the professionalism of the team, the reliability and speed of our car and the thorough preparation of our drivers that we have come through this event relatively unscathed and with a highly impressive result. It speaks volumes that the team brought out three tonnes of spare parts and will take the same three tonnes back home with them!
“Through taking the natural talent these guys show in their gaming and adding NISMO’s real-world racing knowhow, GT Academy continues to unearth and develop some very exciting drivers in an incredibly short space of time. These guys have all done a great job in Dubai and GT Academy continues to give us the tough, but welcome, challenge of having access to so many talented drivers as our racing programme grows. My thanks, as always, to the hugely professional team that make GT Academy happen and special mention, after a gruelling 24 Hours, to Bob Neville and the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN.”
“Each year we see more and more success stem from GT Academy which has seen over five million people pursue their dreams of racing cars through PlayStation,” said Penrose Tackie, Senior European Brand Manager from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. “GT Academy really is making history and it is always incredibly satisfying to witness how it has already changed the lives of these Gran Turismo gamers. They did a great job here and everybody involved in the project should be very proud.”
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