Saturday, January 10, 2009

The finish, but not the end...

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Virtual becomes reality

There are mixed feelings in the Nissan PlayStation team after the TOYO tires 24h of Dubai endurance race. Everyone feels hard done by after such a merciless run of bad luck in the first 12 hours; the drivers were all magnificent when allowed onto the track and the pit crew worked miracles amidst trying circumstances to keep the car in the running long into Saturday morning. One victory that every team member can take credit for is for doing what nobody else has ever done – taking a novice from the virtual world of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and developing him into a real racing driver.

The ease of his transition may surprise some, but not Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi. “It is a dream come true for me to see my game develop a real racing driver,” he said. “I have been hoping for it to happen for ten years.”

“Lucas’s performance has been excellent, but I would expect that from a driver trained using Gran Turismo. I haven’t had much time to watch him drive but he is very calm and never seems to worry. I always believed that someone good at GT could drive as fast as a professional; in fact, I think that they could even go faster.”

Lars will perhaps feel the greatest disappointment, but what he has achieved in such a short time is also astounding and he too now has a stepping stone into racing that so few get.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of an endurance race is being around people that can remain laid-back amidst such fierce competition and incredible feats of skill and endurance. The Nissan PlayStation team has achieved so much in this race, and any disappointment will be taken on the chin. The one phrase you hear constantly when walking along the pit-lanes is: “that’s motorsport!”
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Chequered flag

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Lucas crosses the finish line

With GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez behind the wheel, the Nissan PlayStation Racing Team’s Nissan 350Z GT4 crossed the finish line of the TOYO Tires 24h of Dubai endurance race to a rapturous reception. The team finished 45th overall and ninth in its class, completing 451 laps and covering a distance of 2431km.

Their placing fails to reflect stunning performances from drivers and pit-crew alike amidst frustrating mechanical difficulties that forced the car into the pits 21 times. During the course of the race they used 1,170 litres of fuel and 30 sets of tyres. The top speed achieved by the car was 150mph and Alex Buncombe recorded t
he quickest lap at 2:10:04 minutes. The fastest driver changeover and refuel was achieved in an incredible 56 seconds.

Land Motorsport 2 took first place overall, completing 573 laps; Al Faisal Racing 1 came in second and won the A5 class in which the Nissan PlayStation team competed; and Besaplast Racing Team claimed third place.

Lucas was clearly elated as he received pats on the back from his teammates and hugs from his family, who have travelled over from Spain and supported him throughout the race. “It was the most amazing feeling,” he beamed. “I saw all of my team climbing the barrier and cheering me on. It was the craziest feeling of my life.”

“This is a weekend of disappointments and great achievements,” declared Johnny Herbert. “Lucas did brilliantly, producing
a mistake-free drive under big pressure. He has achieved everything we had hoped from him and proved that it is possible to make the transition from virtual racing to the real thing.

“It’s a shame about the mechanical problems, but they come with the job. Everyone wants a race without problems but these things rear their ugly head. I’ve been in races where we didn’t even make the finish line so at least we got there.”
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Still practicing!

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Good news travels fast

Lucas Ordóñez is really turning on the style here in Dubai. He completed his third driving session with another 2:11 minute lap to take the Nissan PlayStation team into 45th place overall and into the top ten of its class.

The eerie calm that surrounded the track a few hours ago as tiredness took grip - a far cry from the pandemonium that swarmed the starting grid - made it all the more impressive to watch the drivers pounding along the track relentlessly. But as the sun emerges and the end of the race draws nearer, everyone is suddenly refreshed.

With a podium finish now seeming impossible, the team will no doubt dwell on what might have happened had they not been hit by such bad luck during the first half of the race. They estimate that their 16 pit-stops have cost them as many as 60 laps. One thing that nobody can fault is the drivers; every one of them has been magnificent and still they are hungry for more.
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Final day begins

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The bittersweet world of motorsport

While things are finally looking up for the Nissan PlayStation team as sunrise approaches, their colleagues have been dealt a major blow. The other Nissan 350Z GT4, with which they share a pit garage, careered into a wall and has suffered major damage, meaning it can take no further part in the TOYO Tires 24h of Dubai. Most importantly, the driver has been checked by medical professionals and is unharmed, but the team is obviously devastated.

Conversely, Lucas Ordóñez enjoyed a superb session of driving, helping his team climb to 51st position overall at the time of writing. He began his 90 minute session averaging approximately 2:14 minutes per lap and grew in confidence with each corner, even managing to post a lap time of 2:12 minutes.

“It’s difficult at night,” he said. “It’s getting fierce out there as the air gets colder and drivers are able to push their cars harder, but I tried to stay calm and am very happy with my times.”

Darren Cox, Interactive Marketing Manager of Nissan Europe was equally delighted with Lucas’s drive. “He was fast, consistent and professional – everything we need,” he said. Such is the team’s trust in the GT Academy winner at this stage, he is currently preparing himself for yet another session after sitting out for the two hours required by the race rules.
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Friday, January 9, 2009

Night drive

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Fast laps and further frustrations

As night falls and the track is illuminated by speeding headlights, the Nissan PlayStation 350Z GT4 continues to suffer niggling setbacks. Johnny Herbert was forced into the pit-lane by a problem with the sensor that transmits lap times to the race computer and an issue with the headlights.

When Alex Buncombe got behind the wheel it seemed that the team’s fortunes had turned. He posted a succession of 2:11 minute laps, which were comfortably among the top ten in the field. To add further woe, he was involved in a collision with a Renault Clio, breaking the rear suspension and costing the team five laps.

As the temperature dropped, so did lap times. As Darren Cox, Interactive Marketing Manager of Nissan Europe and Tim Beven, project co-ordinator for the Nissan PlayStation team explained, cool air is denser. This allows the engine to burn more fuel and generate more power. Mild conditions also exert less strain on the car and are more comfortable for the driver.

At the time of writing the Nissan PlayStation team are in 62nd position overall, but there are still many hours to go and with the race strategy now being to push the car to its limits through the early hours of a humid Saturday morning, anything can happen. Read more

Lars offers insight from behind the scenes

What are your thoughts on the race so far?

It has been difficult; there are a lot of cars on the track and we have had problems with the steering and a punctured tyre. At the moment something has happened on the track; it must be a crash somewhere because the safety car is out and everyone has to drive slowly. I didn’t see what happened.

Have you been impressed with Lucas’s driving?

Yes, he is posting some fantastic times and coping well with the traffic, but it comes as no surprise to me because I know how good he is.

What have you been doing in the pit-lane to help out?

I’ve been sitting in the timing booth, recording Lucas’s lap times and reporting back to the mechanics. If a time is unusually slow it means that he has a problem and we need to find out what it is

It’s getting dark, does that present a new challenge for Lucas?

Night driving is different because you have bright lights approaching you from behind; it’s very difficult.

Is this the first endurance race you have been to?

I live in Bonn so I always try to see the endurance race at the Nürburgring. There’s a special atmosphere here in Dubai. It is very cold in Germany but here the sun is shining and everyone is having a great time.
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Lucas speaks after his first session

You’ve completed your first session, was it anything like you were expecting?

You can’t really expect anything with 80 cars on the track and some fearless guys driving them. It’s difficult to overtake out there but I’m trying to be consistent in my lap times. I also had a problem with a puncture but I spoke to my team on the radio and they managed to fix it quickly.

Are you confident of making up the lost time?

Yes, I’m looking forward to my next session, which will be in the dark. Night driving is very exciting, with all the lights flying past.

Are you starting to feel tired?

No, I’m good. I’ve had plenty of energy drinks which keep me going. I feel great for now but this is an endurance race and there is a long way to go yet. This is the longest race I have driven in and it is fantastic. To be an endurance driver is my greatest dream and already I’m hoping to do it again next year.
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Team in action

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Race begins

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Crowd gathers

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Getting ready

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Mixed fortunes

A combination of solid driving and ill luck has left the Nissan PlayStation racing team with it all to do at the TOYO Tires 24h of Dubai endurance race. Rob Barff got off to a solid start, driving consistently to achieve lap times of around 2:12 minutes. Unfortunately, he was blighted by a freak incident early into his session and was forced to pull into the pit-lane with smoke billowing from his car.

“A piece of debris on the track popped up and damaged the power steering system,” explained Darren Cox, Interactive Marketing Manager of Nissan Europe. “It ruptured a joint and caused power steering fluid to pour onto the track; it also landed on the hot exhaust which explains all the smoke. We’ve repaired it but it has cost us ten laps, which is a blow as Rob was going so well out there.”

Once the fault had been repaired, Lucas got off to a flying start, completing one of his first laps in 2:14 minutes before settling into an impressive run of 2:15 minute postings. However, on lap 36 a puncture forced the Nissan 350Z GT4 into the pit-lane once again, although professional driving from Lucas and a tremendous effort from the pit team meant that the team lost less than a minute.

At time of writing, the Nissan PlayStation team is in 62nd place overall and 15th in their class, with Johnny Herbert currently behind the wheel. Before beginning his session, he said that a comeback was needed, but with Lucas driving so well and, hopefully, the misfortunes behind them, he is optimistic of finishing the race in a respectable position.
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Johnny Herbert talks to

Are you proud of what GT Academy has achieved?
Definitely so, people have spoken for a long time about taking someone from virtual racing and seeing if they can do the real thing but nobody has had the courage to do it. It’s amazing that we have done it in such a short space of time, and myself and the rest of the team are there to help Lucas through what is a completely new experience.

How confident were you of finding virtual drivers that could perform on the track?

The level at the Silverstone Grand Final was much higher than I expected which was encouraging. One of the interesting things about all of the guys we saw was that their experience of playing Gran Turismo had been purely visual; I use my eyes but I’ve learnt to use the feel of the car when I drive, which you can’t fully replicate in a game. To the credit of those who came to Silverstone, they were all able to jump into a racing car and absorb what we were teaching them very quickly.

Is dealing with the media as much a learning process for Lars and Lucas as what they do on the track?
Absolutely, because it’s all part of racing. I’m used to it because I’ve done this so many times, but sometimes you do want to focus fully on the race in those hours before the start. I have learnt to get the interviews out of the way and then switch my mind to race mode.

Can you see them now pursuing careers in motorsport?
Motorsport is a hard game to get into, but GT Academy has given them the best possible chance. Yesterday, during practice, Lucas was only two seconds a lap slower than myself and the rest of the team, which shows how far he has come along in the short time he has been with us. If we get a good result today, then he will receive a lot of media attention and possibly the chance to start out in this form of racing. It’s an opportunity very few get and if he grabs it by the horns then who knows where it will take him. Like anything in life, if you try hard then you’re in with a chance. Read more

The temperature rises

The heat is searing here in Dubai, with temperatures hitting 30 degrees Celsius trackside. The cars have all assembled on the starting grid for a parade and warm-up lap, with Rob Barff shouldering the responsibility of the first session.

“The hardest part is taking that first corner,” he said before climbing behind the wheel. “You have more than 80 cars vying for position, but after the first lap the quicker cars will pull away and you can settle into a rhythm.”

The team has decided to change drivers approximately every 90 minutes. GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez will drive the second session, with motoring legend Johnny Herbert taking the third. Lucas seemed relaxed as he answered questions for the media; many journalists have made the trip over from his native Spain, where his amazing story has captured the public's imagination.

With the start of the race rapidly approaching, look out for updates from the start of the TOYO tires 24h of Dubai endurance race and full interviews with members of the Nissan PlayStation racing team. Read more

GT Academy winners arrive in Dubai

Excitement is building for the TOYO tires 24h of Dubai endurance race, but not without a tinge of disappointment. To take a driver from novice to International license level in just three months was never going to be easy; Lars Schlömer faced additional challenges along the way and unfortunately has had to relinquish his seat in the Nissan 350Z GT4.

Illness forced him to miss vital training exercises such as the night race, leaving him with less experience than Lucas Ordóñez. This forced the team to make a tough decision.

Darren Cox, Interactive Marketing Manager of Nissan Europe said: “The Nissan PlayStation team have assessed the situation prior to Dubai and have made the decision that Lars is not quite ready to join the team on the track for the final race. We are proud of what he has achieved and look forward to working with him in 2009.”

Despite obvious disappointment, Lars is here in Dubai to support Lucas and the rest of the Nissan PlayStation team, and he remains a valued member of the team assisting with race strategy. Making it this far is an incredible achievement of which he and his family can be extremely proud. Read more