FROM GAME POD TO RACETRACK

Photos from DDP 2014

I revved up the motor. My whole body thrummed as I stepped on the gas and the roar of the engines drowned out the chatter of my mind.

The broken blue lines on the black asphalt merged then blurred as the road jumped at my windshield. By then, I was hitting 200 mph, completely clueless about the configuration of the circuit.

I tackled a hairpin curve, then another and another, full throttle, before I spun into a row of pylons and smashed into a wall.

Thank God, no blood! I’m still in one piece.

I don’t know how to drive, of course. The game pod, a simulator at the Nissan GT Academy in SM North EDSA ‘s Sky Dome felt like a real race car on a real track. But if I was in one, I’d be mincemeat by now.

pod

Still, if I had been dead-set on becoming a pro, like 24-year old gamer Ricardo Sánchez of Toluca, Mexico, I would have spent countless hours in the simulator and translated my  virtual skill to the actual circuit.

Ricardo is part of a small but elite group of video-gamers-turned-pro-race-car-drivers.

The Nissan GT Academy started training gamers seven years ago when Nissan and Gran Turismo, the PlayStation game, collaborated to transform those who proved their driving skills in video games into real drivers for Nissan race teams.

Nissan GT Academy Playstation logo 2014 crop

And now, for the first time in seven years, Nissan GT Academy has come to the country.

“We offer an exciting opportunity for Filipinos to emerge as breakthrough talents in the racing world,” announced Antonio Zara, President and Managing Director of Nissan Philippines, Inc.

Nissan Phils President & Managing Director Antonio Zara tries out the simulator pod

Ricardo, the GT Academy International Champion 2014, even flew from UK to attend last month’s launch.

The Mexican gamer wanted to be a pro race car driver since he was a kid although his father can only afford to take him go-karting occasionally.

Photos from International Race Camp 2014

The economics of grooming a racing champion is astronomical. You can get a shot at it if you’re born rich or can haul sponsors to back you up because you have to cough up millions of dollars to hone your skills in the first place.

Training starts early in childhood with Karting, where you spend over $40,000 per season. By age 15, you graduate to cars. If you aspire to be an IndyCar driver, you go for the US F2000 Championship, where budding superstars train at the cost of $200,000 per season.

To climb higher up the ladder, you pony up $400,000 to get in the Star Mazda Championship. To race in the Indy Lights series, you need $1 million. If you opt for the NASCAR, a ride in the truck series will cost a couple of million dollars. The Nationwide Series will set you back between three to five million more.

Photos from DDP 2014

Luckily for Ricardo, his dad spotted a GT Academy Live Event taking place in their local Shopping Mall and goaded his son to compete.

Here, the fastest player in the simulator gets a chance to compete in a real car in an actual racetrack.

Ricardo won the Live Event competition and progressed to the two day National Finals in Mexico City, where they tested his Gran Turismo skills, his physical fitness, his media presence, answering questions in a presscon, before he raced a Nissan 370Z around the Mexican F1 circuit and eventually became one of six finalists headed for Silverstone.

Photos from International Race Camp 2014

During the Race Camp week in the UK,  Ricardo competed against Gamers from Australia, India, Thailand and the Middle East for the grand prize and won, enabling him to complete the Driver Development Programme so he can race a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 at the 2015 Dubai 24 Hours.

He’s an example of what the GT Academy is all about: Take raw talent, nurture it and challenge it all the way to the finish line.

This year, a Filipino can follow the footsteps of Ricardo, if he can beat gamers from 24 countries, about 2.2 billion potential entrants.

To date, the fastest lap time recorded in the Philippines is 1:02:762 and the slowest in the top 20 is 1:03:671.  So far, 3,005 attempts have been recorded in the live recruitment events which started last April 10 and will run at various venues until June 28.

NPI GM for Marketing SJ Huh with Laurence Wiltshire, Antonio Zara and Ricardo Sanchez (3)

“We’re looking forward to discovering more new stars in 2015,” says GTA Global’s Managing Director Laurence Wiltshire. “Anyone in the Philippines who thinks they have what it takes should give GT Academy a go. Not everyone can win, but the experience is hugely rewarding.”

And definitely, it’s fun.

Last Saturday, even celebrity Sam Pinto joined the fray. She’s been driving since she was 16 and figured that with some practice, she can clock a decent lap time and compete with other gamers.

“This is the closest I can get to being a race car driver, they told me it’s open to women too, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” she smiled.

nissan pod

Sam Pinto 2

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