The GT Academy 2011 driver development programme shifted up a gear last weekend when European winner Jann Mardenborough had his first competitive outing in a 420bhp Nissan 370Z GT4 race car. Racing in the Welsh Sports and GT Championship at Pembrey, Wales, the gamer-turned-racing driver recorded two strong third place finishes and a fourth in the weekend’s three races.
The GT4 car is a more powerful, race-bred version of the standard 370Z that Jann and his USA GT Academy counterpart Bryan Heitkotter have been racing as the two hone their real racing skills in preparation for an assault on the prestigious Dubai 24 Hour race in January, 2012. The pair will have the opportunity to experience the demands of driving the sequential-gearbox 370Z GT4 car over a full 24 hour period when they take part in the Britcar 24 Hours endurance race at Silverstone from 1-2 October – a pretty good dress rehearsal for the main prize of GT Academy 2011, albeit without the intense heat of the Middle East.
Jann and Bryan were fairly evenly matched at Pembrey. While Jann was third on Saturday, Bryan was just behind in fourth. But on Sunday, Bryan got the better of his British team-mate taking two second places to Jann’s third and fourth.
The GT Academy duo is racing under the guidance of the experienced RJN Motorsport team boss, Bob Neville, who commented: “It was a really good performance from both drivers. Pembrey is a tricky circuit that proves an excellent platform for driver training. This was their biggest test so far, with us posing the question; can they handle the Nissan GT4 car? I was particularly pleased with the way they adapted to the extra power without any difficulties at all. For them both to get podium finishes was an added bonus.”
Mardenborough, from Cardiff, recently celebrated his twentieth birthday and said after the race: “If I step back to look at what I have achieved in such a short space of time, I am really pleased with my progress. Racing the GT4 car was another step forward. It has a lot of similar handling characteristics to the standard 370Z that I was previously racing, but it obviously has more power and a different gearbox. I am getting used to left foot braking now and I keep practising my down shifts, so it’s a case of trying to improve every time I’m in the car.”
Jann and Bryan are following in the footsteps of inaugural GT Academy winner, Lucas Ordoñez. Within three years, the Spanish student graduated from his PS3 to record a podium finish at the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours race with the Signatech Nissan LMP2 team.
Lucas and the team were back in action at the weekend in the latest round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) at Silverstone. His racing education continued when he took on the qualifying and starting role for the team for the first time, producing a very creditable performance before some technical difficulties left the team for too long in the garage. They ultimately finished seventh in class, but still have a chance to take the series win with two rounds remaining. The Nissan-powered Greaves Motorsport team provided the perfect consolation for the Japanese manufacturer, taking a fourth win of the season to leave them very close to clinching the 2011 Le Mans Series title.
Silverstone photographs by Kevin Mc Glone of Red Square Images.