GT Academy winner Lucas Ordoñez races Nissan-powered LMP2 car at Sebring

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Lucas Ordoñez, the Spaniard who won the inaugural Nissan GT Academy, is racing in the 12 Hours of Sebring today in Sebring, Florida. Ordoñez is at the wheel of a Nissan-powered LMP2 machine entered by Signatech.

This is Ordoñez's first trip to the big time, and won't be his last, with a full LeMans Cup schedule ahead of him this year, including the 24 Hours of LeMans in June. After singling himself out of a field of 25,000 GT Academy contestants, Ordoñez's first race was at the 2009 Dubai 24 Hours, where he drove a Nissan 350Z.

This may not be Ordoñez's first endurance racing rodeo, but LMP2 is a completely different beast than GT cars. We'll keep you updated on his status.

[Source: Nissan]
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- Lucas Ordoñez to pilot Nissan-powered LMP2 prototype in American endurance classic-

Lucas Ordoñez, winner of the inaugural Nissan and PlayStation GT Academy competition in Europe in 2008, will make his International LeMans Cup debut tomorrow at the 2011 Mobil One 12 Hours of Sebring in a Nissan-powered prototype, LMP2-class car for the Signatech Nissan racing team.

In 2008, Nissan partnered with Sony's videogame console maker to create an event to see if a highly-skilled player in the Gran Turismo driving simulator game could make the transition to the real thing, becoming a competitive racer in a genuine race car. As the winner of the inaugural PlayStation GT Academy competition held in Europe, Lucas demonstrated succinctly that a gamer can indeed make a successful jump from the virtual playground to being a world-class professional race car driver. In less than three years, the 25-year-old Spaniard has graduated to the top ranks of international sports car racing competition. Along with the Sebring 12 Hour race, he will contest the entire 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup series for the Signatech Nissan squad –including the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Lucas was among the fastest of the 25,000 people that entered the first GT Academy competition on PlayStation's Gran Turismo game. His skills enabled him move up the ladder to represent Spain at a five-day training camp at the UK's Silverstone circuit, where he emerged as overall champion. In the final few months of 2008, Lucas embarked on an intensive driver training program to qualify for an international racing license. With his license secured in record time, he headed to Dubai in January 2009 to join former Le Mans and Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert on the GT Academy Team, where he contested the Dubai International 24 Hours in a Nissan 350Z.

Showing well in Dubai, Lucas was recruited to drive for Nissan in the 2009 European GT4 Cup. His excellent performances, including a win and three second-place finishes, earned him second place in the drivers' championship while securing the team title for RJN Motorsport.

The 2010 season saw Lucas back in European GT4 Cup competition, where he proved vital in helping to develop the new Nissan 370Z GT4. He finished in fourth place for the season, despite missing one round to take up the offer of a one-off LMP2 drive at Silverstone in the Le Mans Series 1000km race.

Lucas's speed and dedication in his short racing career have earned him the respect of many within Nissan's motorsports and marketing operations, and have resulted in his promotion to top-tier sports car competition with the Signatech Nissan racing team in their quest to capture the International LeMans Cup.

"Nissan has a rich heritage in international motorsport and we are also a very innovative company," said Jon Brancheau, Vice President Marketing Nissan. "Therefore, our return to the Le Mans 24 Hours with a driver we discovered three years ago through a PlayStation virtual competition may seem surprising to some, but feels natural for us."

With the GT Academy format proving extremely successful on the Continent a North American version has been created. The GT Academy is now up and running in the U.S.

From over 53,000 combatants across the U.S., the inaugural field has been narrowed down to 32 finalists that will battle it out in a live head-to-head competition following the Mobil One 12 Hours of Sebring. This event will take place on March 21, 22 and 23 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Divided into groups of four, the talented gamers will contest a series of Gran Turismo 5 races until only the fastest 16 drivers remain.

In Phase Two of the GT Academy, the remaining 16 drivers will step behind the wheel of several Nissan vehicles (including real Nissan racing cars) and compete against one another in a series of driving challenges. And following in the footsteps of Lucas Ordoñez, the winner will then begin training with a racing team with the goal of eventually driving in a major endurance racing event.

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