Lucas' season begins in March, behind the wheel of a Signatech Nissan LMP2 machine at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. From there, it's on to the holy grail, the 24 Hours of LeMans, followed by five more LeMans Cup races across the globe.
There are likely to be more people like Lucas coming down the pike: the European GT Academy will start its fourth installment on March 4, and Nissan and Gran Turismo recently started the American version. More details can be found in the official release after the jump. Thanks to everyone for the tips!
Lucas Ordoñez to contest the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup for Signatech Nissan
Lucas Ordoñez, winner of the inaugural Nissan and PlayStation GT Academy competition in 2008, will demonstrate once again the success of the innovative gamer-to-racer competition when he lines up on the grid of the famous Le Mans 24 Hours this year. The 25-year-old Spaniard will contest the full Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in 2011 behind the wheel of a Nissan-powered LMP2 car for the Signatech Nissan team.
In 2008, Nissan teamed up with PlayStation to ask the question; can a super-fast gamer become a super-fast driver in the real world? In less than three years, Lucas has proved the answer to be a resounding 'yes', with his transformation from novice to professional racing driver exceeding the expectations of the motor sport fraternity. His extraordinary story will reach another climax on 11 and 12 June when he lines up to contest arguably the most famous race in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hours, the third round of the seven-race Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series.
Lucas was among the fastest of the 25,000 people that entered the first GT Academy competition on PlayStation's Gran Turismo game. He won a place to represent Spain at a five-day training camp at the UK's Silverstone circuit and emerged victorious. Between September and the end of 2008, Lucas embarked on an intensive driver training programme to qualify for an international racing licence. With the licence secured in record time, Lucas headed to Dubai in January 2009 and joined former Le Mans and Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert in the GT Academy Team, contesting the Dubai International 24 Hours in a Nissan 350Z.
After a strong showing in Dubai, Lucas was recruited to drive for Nissan in the 2009 European GT4 Cup alongside Briton Alex Buncombe. The pair finished an agonizingly close second in the drivers' championship but did manage to secure the teams' title for RJN Motorsport with some excellent performances that included a win and three second places.
Lucas was back in the European GT4 Cup in 2010 helping to develop the new Nissan 370Z GT4. He finished in fourth place in the series, despite missing one round to take up the offer of a one-off LM P2 drive at Silverstone in the Le Mans Series 1000km race.
Lucas's speed and dedication in his short racing career has earned him the respect of many within Nissan's marketing and racing operations. In February 2011, the Japanese manufacturer announced that it would return to the Le Mans 24 Hours and join the exciting Intercontinental Le Mans Cup through a partnership with Signature Racing that will see the NISMO-tuned VK45V8 engine equip its LMP2 cars in 2011 and 2012. Lucas was an automatic choice to join the squad, as Darren Cox, Nissan in Europe's Chief Marketing Manager Crossover and Sports Cars, explains: "When we started GT Academy in 2008, we knew that it would uncover new talent, but could not imagine that the Academy would develop into a driver development programme that provides a ladder to the world's greatest race. With Lucas, we have certainly proved the theory that a PlayStation gamer could transfer his skills to a real car on a real race track. His progress in just two full seasons of racing has been dramatic and is a testament to the reality of the Gran Turismo games and the knowledge and support that Nissan have been able to provide to the gamers that have come through the Academy.
"Nissan has a rich heritage in international motor sport and we are also a very innovative company. Therefore our return to the Le Mans 24 Hours with a driver we discovered three years ago through a PlayStation competition may be a surprise to some, but is normal for us."
For his part, Lucas is naturally thrilled to be given the opportunity to take to the legendary roads of Le Mans for the famous 24 Hour race. "It is beginning to sound a bit clichéd for me to keep talking about 'living my dream'," said the former MBA student. "However, the past three years have been amazing and now to have been given the opportunity by Nissan to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as all the other fantastic races in the Intercontinental Le Mans Series, is incredible. I recognise that this is a big challenge and a great honour and I can't wait to get started at Sebring later this month."
The Intercontinental Le Mans Series consists of seven races in 2011. Starting with the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida on 19 March, it includes a number of famous races such as the 1,000km of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, the Le Mans 24 Hours and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The series finale takes place in November in China.
Nissan and PlayStation's GT Academy competition continues to grow. In 2010, the second instalment, 1.2 million gamers from across Europe entered. A new GT Academy North America is now running and the third European competition will start on 4 March, with a six-week virtual time trial on the new Gran Turismo 5 game.