The Nissan PlayStation® GT Academy again demonstrated the strength and depth of its driver discovery and development programme this weekend when the four newest graduates took their prize drive at the Dubai 24 Hours. Two of the latest PlayStation®3 gaming experts turned real Nissan racing drivers took the chequered flag in an exceptional second place in class, whilst the second Nissan 370Z Nismo GT4 car crossed the line in ninth position after some dramas in the night.
The No.127 Nissan 370Z Nismo, raced by Wolfgang Reip and Mark Shulzhitskiy, with their pro team-mates Lucas Ordonez and Roman Rusinov, finished the race in second position. Lucas gave them the best possible start by qualifying the car on pole position in the SP3 class and then getting the race underway before handing over to Roman. Next it was the turn of Wolfie, who beat 830,000 Gran Turismo®5 gamers to the 2012 GT Academy Europe title, to take the wheel for his first stint in an international race and true to form with endurance racing the Belgian had a baptism of fire!
“It was a great feeling to get out there on a very busy track with the best drivers and cars we have ever raced against,” he said. “I had a good, clean run and took the class lead just before the end of my stint. Unfortunately on my in lap another car lost a wheel and the first I knew about it was when I hit it at full speed. I realised exactly what had happened and hoped the damage to the front of the Nissan wasn’t too bad. I then got to witness the RJN boys at work and they repaired my car in less than an hour.”
This incident put the No.127 car right back to ninth place in class and meant that for Mark’s first stint he was under pressure to make sure all was well with the car by venturing out at a slower pace and building up to full racing speed. Like Wolfie he did a great job and started the fight back that would continue through the night. By first light they were up to third place and after steadily chipping away at the leaders throughout Saturday morning it was Russian driver Mark who crossed the line in a well-deserved second place.
Across the garage in the No.147 car it was a tougher race. German winner Peter Pyzera and his mentor Sabine Schmitz, teamed up with US winner Steve Doherty and Nissan regular Alex Buncombe. They had a great getaway when Alex took the class lead but at the start of the night Sabine had an off when running on cold tyres straight after a ‘Code 60’ period (note: there are no safety cars at the Dubai 24 Hours, just a Code 60 where cars must slow to 60kmh). At first the rear end damage to the car looked terminal but just over one and a half hours later the RJN team got the car back on track, this time in the hands of Peter.
“This has been a really great experience and I hope it is just the first step in a long racing career for me,” said Peter. “We lost a lot of time last night but we kept our focus and pushed on all the way to the flag. It was actually good for me that we lost time as I was very nervous before the race but when we lost time it made me want to get in there and fight to get it back. All we had to do today is remember everything we have been taught. It was a great experience and I want to do it again now.”
Despite the setbacks the No.147 Nissan crossed the line in ninth place after 24 hours of racing with American winner Steve Doherty at the wheel.
“This has been another great event where a big group of people, both behind the scenes and in front, have pulled together to turn dreams into reality,” commented Nissan’s Director of Global Motorsport, Darren Cox. “It was great to hear that Radio Le Mans listeners voted to give the ‘Spirit of Le Mans’ award to the RJN boys. They deserve that. As well as the race team we have driver coaches, media trainers, film crews and agencies who all work hard to make this happen. The level that the four new drivers have achieved in just five months is testament to all that work and the reality is that ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’!”