France’s Gaëtan Paletou has been named 2014 Nismo GT Academy Europe champion following a thrilling week long Race Camp event at Silverstone in the UK.
With the media days comprising the last two days of the event, only three of the competitors remained for each region following earlier eliminations and more whittling was to occur that same day. To add to the competitors’ stress, Gran Turismo series creator Kazunori Yamauchi was now in attendance, watching their every move, along with Nismo Athlete and legendary Olympian Sir Chris Hoy who was fitting in some simulator training ahead of a British GT race.
The morning’s activity for the hopefuls was an overtaking challenge set at the Silverstone Stowe Circuit. In true Gran Turismo 6 style, the contestants started at the back of a chain of cars and had three laps to overtake as many as they could in the Knight Rider Nissan GT-R – with some Ferrari and Aston Martin models drafted in to increase the drone fleet. UK finalist Alex Porazinski’s run even included some wheel to wheel contact with one of the Astons!
With the leading racer in each region guaranteeing their safety, the remaining two had to head into a dogfight face-off – three laps of Stowe in Nismo 370Zs, starting at opposite sides of the track – with the loser in the best-of-three eliminated. When the dust and drizzle settled, the following drivers saw their participation end:
- BeNeLux – Paul Broekmeulen (Netherlands)
- France – Maxime Batifoulier
- UK – Alex Porazinski
- Italy – Luca Guerra
- Russia – Taras Shatov
- Swe/Po/Czech – Kimmy Larsson (Sweden)
- Iberia – Rafael Tourón (Spain)
Following some late night birthday celebrations for Kazunori Yamauchi, the final day swept in with the last two in each group facing their own worst enemy – themselves. The last test is a second benchmark that compares the driver to their own times earlier in the week to see how much they have improved due to the driver tuition and training they have received.
With the judges looking for a talent more receptive to the driver development program that lays ahead of the winner, the final seven eliminated drivers were:
- BeNeLux – Laurens Beerten (Belgium)
- France – Loic Lanoe
- UK – Luke Wilkins
- Italy – Ariel Bernardi
- Russia – Andrei Trofimov
- Swe/Po/Czech – Alexander Haegermark (Sweden)
- Iberia – Carlos Martínez Alonso (Spain)
This left as regional champions Cédric Wauters (Belgium), Gaëtan Paletou (France), Filipe “Pipo” Rodrigues (Portugal), Riccardo Massa (Italy), Dmitry Lebedev (Russia), Kamil Franczak (Poland) and Karl Chard (UK).
Heading into the final race, the original qualifying positions had been determined by the results of the buggy race on day 6, but a little bit of fate intervened. Two of the Nismo 370Zs developed faults – because race car – that prevented their occupants from racing them and a new qualification session was required to pick the final five drivers. This led to the elimination of Dmitry and Kamil from the grid, while the new start order had Cédric on pole position from Riccardo, then Gaëtan, Karl and Pipo in 5th.
For the first time in the Academy’s history, the race was effectively decided by an absolutely colossal accident – in the first corner no less. Pipo made a brilliant start to sweep up the inside of pole sitter Cédric, while Riccardo managed to surprise him round the outside at the same time. Running into Abbey three abreast was never going to go well and the three cars ground together, with Riccardo being spat out into the gravel on the outside missing a wheel, Cédric being hurled to the back of the pack and Pipo having to retire the car back to the pits.
Further disaster struck 2nd place man Karl Chard, as his clutch packed in at half distance, allowing Cédric past to move up a spot as he lost drive onto the main straight and also had to bring the car back into the pits. Gaëtan, however was never really troubled at the front and, having avoided the first corner calamity, controlled his lead from first Karl and then Cédric until the end of the race.
While Race Control gave the Italian and Portuguese competitors a stern talking to and, like his namesake Felipe, unlucky Riccardo Massa having to shoulder the largest part of the fault for the crash, the judges and mentors discussed the drivers’ relative cases for the title and, in an unusually short decision, head judge Johnny Herbert announced 22 year old Frenchman Gaëtan Paletou as the newest GT Academy champion.
With the German race camp already decided in secret (due to television contracts) last month, Gaëtan is the second GT Academy champion of the season. The International event begins tomorrow and we’ll be on hand for the final day, with the US race camp naming the fourth and final champion later in the month.