Back in 2008, Lucas Ordoñez lived what seemed like an ordinary existence. The 22 year old Spanish student was an avid motorsports fan, but he lacked the suitable investment necessary to become a professional race driver and had virtually given up on racing. Besides, he was already knee-deep in trying to complete a Master of Business Administration degree (MBA) .
But it was Ordoñez' passion for virtual racing, particularly his love of Grand Turismo, that made him stand out from his peers - both off the track and eventually on it.
In just a few months, Ordoñez' life was suitably transformed from console dreamer to actually racing the real thing at a real race track in Europe. And Ordoñez managed to do the unthinkable: go from the couch car to the race car and win. And not just win, but eventually become the best in his class.
Taking PS3 skills onto the track - how Ordoñez' did it
An official European PlayStation competition was held to find the fastest "virtual driver" from more than 25,000 competitors, and national finals were held around Europe to find the best Grand Turismo driver in the land. The grand prize? The opportunity to race real GTA cars on the official European GTA Cup circuit.
The fastest game drivers from each country were then invited to participate in the newly established Playstation GT Academy, a boot camp of sorts for hardcore console racing geeks, where they got to race real cars.
The Academy also served as cleaning house of sorts, designed to separate the console dreamers from the hardcore race nerds; the overweight from the overconfident and the virtual from the harsh reality.
Drivers needed to be more than just PS3 wizz kids, they had to have the complete skills package too; racing-guts, track-stamina and media savvy. They'd be tested on each at the Academy and only two drivers would graduate to the next level.
|From the console to the racetrack: Lucas Ordoñez catches a bit of downtime between racing on the GTA circuit
The secret to Ordoñez' transformation gives hope to thousands of gamers who have wondered whether their on-screen abilities could one-day translate into on-track success.
In the same way airforce pilots train their skills from advanced simulators, the PS3 version of Grand Turismo is often lauded for its intricate attention to racing physics and small race details.
According to a Top Gear Interview, Ordoñez was later given the chance to speak with Grand Turismo's Japanese creator Kazunori Yamauchi and told him that the "experience to be consistent in the laps and to know the perfect line in the tracks" had helped him to relate in-game braking points to the real track environment. In other words, Grand Turismo was deemed the perfect track simulator.
During the later months of 2008, Ordoñez continued to work on his MBA during the week, while in the times he wasn't studying, he was getting fit in Madrid with a personal trainer, undergoing the gruelling physical training necessary to be a professional driver (and tolerate the large G-forces).
On weekends, Ordoñez participated in a number of smaller European races to gain his international race drivers 'C' licence, which stipulates a mandatory amount of track time at national certified tracks.
Those races were held in the UK with the RJN Motorsport Team. Before long, Ordoñez had secured his C licence and was off to the GTA Dubai International 24 Hour race in 2009 - where after 451 laps and 2431km in 24 hours, Ordoñez finished alongside English former F1 Gun, Johnny Herbert, and landed a respectable 9th in the powerful Nissan 350Z race car. Not bad for a first time effort.
|Born for speed: the Nissan 350Z at the Dubai 24 hour race in 2009
But Dubai wouldn't be the end result for Ordonez. The fairytale had just begun. Not only did he compete, but Ordoñez eventually went onto win the Euorpean GTA Cup for RJN Motorsport, a dream come true for the humble gamer from Spain.
Off the back of Ordoñez' stunning championship success, Sony is pushing the 2010 GT Academy as even bigger than the last. Console racers will now need to complete five stages of gruelling qualifications before they can be accepted onto the real track to race in the European GTA CUP.
|A fairytale comes true for Lucas Ordoñez, who went from student to pro race car driver in under 12 months
This year, the competition has expanded to Australia and New Zealand PS3 Grand Turismo players, making it a more of an international competition.
The qualification stages in a nutshell:
- Stage One : A sneak peak of Gran Turismo 5 will give gamers a chance to record best time trial laps over the Playstation network on the PS3. The GT5 Prologue add-on pack will not be necessary.
- Stage Two: The top 20 fastest online lap times from each country will qualify for the national final event.
- Stage Three: Twenty international finalists, chosen from each of the national finals events, will head to five days of boot camp at the world famous Silverstone circuit at the GT Academy itself, driving the real thing.
- Stage Four: This is the stage where fitness meets mental bravado. Those who score highest in the aptitude, fitness and raw talent test will be given the chance to qualify for their 'C' international racing licence. Only two people will be chosen to take this final step.
- Stage Five: One lucky driver will be chosen to compete in a full season European GT4 Cup in a Nissan 370Z prepared by RJN Motorsport. The race begins in May, 2010.
Online qualifying for the game will run from 17 December until 24 January. National finals for Australia will take place soon after. The GT 'boot camp' Academy will take place from 26 February until 3 March.
If you think you have it what takes, then it's time to get training. For more information on how to enter the competition, visit the GT Facebook page or the Grand Turismo website.