From Playstation To The Race Track

Just two years ago, the closest Jann Mardenborough had been to a race car was on his home video console. Now, in a turn of events that must be grabbing the attention of the motorsports world, he has a GP3 victory under his belt and is on the verge of becoming a real life F1 star.

In 2011, Jann, who comes from Cardiff, was just one of thousands of wannabes who entered the GT Academy competition, racing in the Gran Tourismo 5 video game that transforms gamers into pro-drivers on virtual circuits mapped from the real thing.

A few years later and the former engineering student, who won the contest which came with a chance to train as a driver despite never having been in a real race car before, was unveiled as a GP3 driver for the 2014 racing season which could become a stepping stone for future greatness. To win the GT Academy, Jann had to endure six weeks of nearly constant gaming to win through to the last stages of the competition; it paid off as just seven months later, in January 2012, he was living out his dream behind the wheel of a real race car in the Dubai 24 Hour race.

22-year-old Jann has signed up with the championship-winning Arden International GP3 Team, which is owned by Christian Horner, the Red Bull Racing boss. He has also been selected to take part in the Red Bull driver development programme. He said, “The ultimate, beyond my wildest dreams, would be to race in Formula 1 and now I am at least in the right place to try and achieve that.”

Last year, Jann finished third in the LMP2 class at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, and recently took a maiden GP3 race win in the Red Bull-backed Arden single-seater at Hockenheim and then finished on the podium in Hungary.

He better keep a firm eye on his rear view mirror, though, as the next crop of racers is coming up on his tailpipes. This year’s winner of the GT Academy, Gaetan Paletou, could also be a future motorsports star after he won the sixth running of the competition at Silverstone. The Frenchman is keen to follow in Jann’s footsteps.

“It’s incredible,” Gaetan said. “I was so happy that I won the race, but I didn’t know that I would win GT Academy.” Winning the race did not guarantee an overall victory; the victor was decided by the judges based on the gamers’ performance throughout the week.

Gaetan added, “It is very special for me and my friends who have supported me.

“This has been a very good experience – a long, hard week and very tight competition so I am so happy to win.

“Now I have to keep pushing to the next step.”

This year’s running of the event saw the coming together of Europe’s finest gamers. After a series of trials, including an assault course, stock car racing, drifting mini-karts, timed laps and other racing competitions, the competitors were whittled down to the final five, representing different countries. The virtual racers were then let loose at the Northamptonshire circuit to compete on track for real in Nissan NISMO performance cars.

Chief Judge and former Formula One race winner, Johnny Herbert, handed the champagne to Gaetan, the second Frenchman to win the competition, while Gran Turismo creator, Kazunori Yamauchi, was also on hand to offer his congratulations.

The prize includes entry into one of the most advanced driver training programmes in the world in order to prepare as one of the NISMO racing drivers competing at the prestigious 2015 Dubai 24 Hour endurance race in January, alongside Yamauchi.

So, Mums and Dads, sometimes good can come of gaming…


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