Three years ago, 23 year-old Brit Jann Mardenborough was a gap year student, wondering what to do with his life. Like many of his age, he spent a lot of time on the PlayStation but in his case, it was to prove to be part of his future. Playing F1 games in an attempt to emulate the achievements of his hero Lewis Hamilton - who he also watched racing in F1 - Jann decided to enter the Nissan GT Academy; and his life changed forever.
Now, in 2015, Jann Mardenborough has been revealed as one of the drivers of Nissan's innovative LM P1 racing car following a successful year's racing in the F1 feeder series, GP3, where he won his first race there, competing against the best single-seater talent in the world. It was his performance at last year's Le Mans 24 Hours that made the racing establishment sit up and take notice of this young man from Cardiff, as he made the giant leap from gamer to racer, as he prepares to compete in the full FIA World Endurance Championship with Nissan.
Mardenborough gets his competitive DNA from his father, Steve, an ex-professional footballer who could be considered a bit of a journeyman with stints at Newport, Cardiff, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Darlington (amongst many others) in the 80s and 90s before finishing his career at Barry Town, but it's Steve's determination to never give up on your dreams that has transferred itself to Jann. He doesn't like losing and it is this competitive spirit that has seen him get to the top of the sports car ladder with Nissan.
"I want to show that there is a different route to the top of motorsport, than just years and years of expensive go karting, by winning at Le Mans," said Mardenborough. "It's an honour for me to be chosen to compete in LM P1 for Nissan. I have raced at Le Mans twice in LM P2 so I have seen the current LM P1 cars at very close quarters out on the track. To think I will be racing one this year is very exciting. The Nissan GT-R LM NISMO looks set to be an historic race car and I get to drive it!"
At the same time as Jann was being introduced at the Chicago Motor Show, in Yokohama, Japan, fellow GT Academy winner, Lucas Ordonez from Spain was being announced as the selected driver to race the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO.
Lucas Ordonez is the first-ever winner of GT Academy, and that makes him a bit of a pioneer when it comes to Nissan's virtual-to-reality story. He was the first GT Academy winner to race at Le Mans where he managed to grab the headlines by achieving a podium place - almost unheard of for a newbie - so it is fitting that Lucas should race the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO at Le Mans.
The Spaniard will be joined by fellow Nissan Super GT racer, Tsugio Matsuda, in the third GT-R that will join the fight at Le Mans in June, but before he gets to Le Mans, Nissan has given him a new challenge. Currently in the middle of his debut season in the Japanese Super GT GT300 Championship, Nissan is really testing him with a place in the top category of Super GT where he will race the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500.
"When I received the call telling me I would race the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO and the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT500 it was like winning GT Academy all over again," said Ordonez. "Last year was incredible, racing in Japan and learning all about the unique racing culture over there. Now I get to race in the top class in Japan and at Le Mans I will jump into the ultimate GT-R! I know it sounds like a cliché but GT Academy really does turn dreams into reality, giving people a real chance to get their dream job, just like I did. For sure you have to work hard but when you do the rewards are there. I have never been so excited about the start of a new season."
The two young men aren't being left to their own devices though because joining Mardenborough and Ordonez in Nissan's LM P1 line-up is NISMO regular Michael Krumm, who was the first man to drive the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO. In all there are 9 drivers in the final squad, and the addition of Michael Krumm with his knowledge (especially of car development capabilities) means that the squad has the perfect mix of youth and experience as Nissan enters the LM P1 battlefield.
"Jann and Lucas have proved their merit as professional racing drivers time and time again, not least with their Le Mans podium finishes," said Darren Cox, Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales, NISMO. "What looks like an overnight success is years of incredibly hard work by Jann, Lucas and the Nissan NISMO team that develop all of the winners of Nissan GT Academy. These guys are proof that if you want something badly enough and are prepared to give it everything you've got, you will succeed. We have the same ethos with our LM P1 programme. Drivers like Krumm add that extra layer of experience that is vital in a programme like this.
"We are here to compete at the highest level and we are not here to make up the numbers," he continued. "It's no accident that people like Mark Webber are racing at Le Mans. This is where you will find the most competitive racing in the world. It is a tough battlefield but we can't wait to join the fight."