The new unfair advantage

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The PlayStation GT Academy winners have proven that they can race well, but it’s still seen as an easy route into the sport by some

Jann Mardenborough is a smiling and confident GT racer. When you meet him you get the sense that all is good with life – he’s got a fully funded drive in the British GT Championship thanks to Nissan and Sony, and he’s currently sitting third in the championship with two rounds remaining. This year he’s notched up a pole position, three podiums and a win at brands hatch.

Nothing too strange about that, of course; it’s his job to drive fast. However, this is only Mardenborough’s second year of racing cars. In 2011 he beat 90,000 other gamers to be
crowned that year’s GT academy winner. The transformation from a Playstation gamer into real racer then began, and after strong results J in lower-category GT races he was sent to the Dubai 24 hours in January 2012 as a team-mate to fellow GT Academy winners Bryan Heitkotter, Lucas ordóñez and Jordan Tresson. They finished third in the SP2 class and 26th overall in a Nissan 370Z.

To some, he’s had it easy. There was no knocking on doors looking for sponsorship; and no scraping by, struggling to make ends meet.

“The older drivers, the guys who are 30 or 35 years old, have taken to it really nicely,” he tells me when I ask him what the reaction has been like from other professional racers. “I get quite a lot of respect from them – they’ve raced with previous winners [of GT Academy] and they know they’re quick.

“The younger guys are a bit different because I’ve got immense backing from Nissan and Sony. I think some of them are a bit envious with the opportunity I’ve been given. I just have to let my race results speak for themselves rather than trying to defend myself all the time.”

This year’s winner will be decided after a week-long boot camp that ends on the same day as the WeC silverstone 6 hours race – August 26. By the time you read this the 2012 winner will have been announced. Whoever does take home the coveted prize will be fighting the same battle as Mardenborough has been. There is now no denying, though, that the jump from gamer to racer is possible and worthy, despite it being seen as an easy way in to the sport. After all, however a driver makes it into a professional race seat is immaterial if they can’t produce the results.

Ed Foster