The Nissan GT Academy Discovers and Develops Drivers

The Nissan GT Academy is an innovative marketing strategy discovering new talent while helping sell cars

There are very few brands with as long a motorsports history as Nissan, and the Franco-Japanese auto giant has come up with a clever marketing strategy that is going to ensure that they continue to compete on the world stage for many years to come.

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Darren Cox, who is the head honcho at NISMO, Nissan’s potent motorsports division, came up with the idea of Nissan’s GT Academy along with Laurence Wiltshire of GTA Global, a marketing and driver management agency based at the famed Silverstone race circuit in England.

About the Nissan GT Academy

Sony Playstation GranTurismo 

The GT Academy is a ground-breaking driver discovery and development program which utilizes Sony’s popular Playstation game system and the ultra-popular Gran Turismo game series. This collaboration gives game players the opportunity to compete for the chance to transition from the world of virtual racing to the seat of an actual racing machine.

The program has been in existence for seven years, and in that period of time millions of aspiring racers have competed from across the globe.

Nissan GT Academy

Graduates of the GT Academy have gone on to compete at the highest levels, including the Blancpain Endurance Series, GP3, and at the Le Mans 24 Hours. All these athletes are trained and managed in house by GTA Global, and are available to Nissan to work as brand ambassadors for the company in their home markets, as well as on a world stage.

GT Academy is integrated into the game and is included as part of the annual online update. By downloading this update a game player can choose to compete for a place in the academy by competing against thousands of other gamers from their region, as well as others from around the world.

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There are currently three regions – International, Asia and Europe – which are further divided into countries. Competitors can play online or at organized “live” events which are held at malls and sporting centres in less technologically developed nations.

Academy Stages

The first stage consists of online qualifications organized within Gran Turismo. The top qualifiers will then be invited to participate in National Final events held within each eligible country. The winners of the National Finals for each of the regions will then participate in a Race Camp held at track locations for the final selection process for their region. The final winner of each region will then undergo an intensive Driver Development Program designed by Nissan and will be given an opportunity to participate in the prestigious and grueling Dubai 24 Hours race.

Nissan GT Academy

The old adage “Race on Sunday—Sell on Monday” is alive and well as Nissan Canada has established a clever spec race series that uses their popular Micra sub-compact as its foundation.

The 12 race series takes place over six weekends at some of the most challenging tracks in Quebec.

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Make no mistake, the specially prepared cars running in the Micra Cup are real racing machines and the level of competition displayed on the track has proven that the diminutive commuter car is both nimble and quick.

So quick in fact that Nissan has entered two of its GT Academy national winners seats in the series for the inaugural season, and these two gamers-cum-racing drivers are proving that the concept of the academy is solid and legitimate.

Abhinay Bikkani of India, a graduate from the 2014 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition, will compete in the inaugural season of the Nissan Micra Cup.
Abhinay Bikkani of India, a graduate from the 2014 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition, will compete in the inaugural season of the Nissan Micra Cup.

International Drivers

2014 GT Academy India winner Abhinay Bikkani is a mechanical engineer who hails from Bangalore, India. His 18-year old teammate- Thanaroj “Mr. T.” Thanasitnitikate- comes from balmy Bangkok, and was the 2013 winner of GT Academy Thailand. Thanaroj is attending university with a focus on theatre, with hopes of becoming an actor.

Both of these men entered the GT Academy with the hopes of becoming professional race car drivers for Nissan, and gauging from their results in the Micra Cup Series, they both show a great deal of promise. Both men possess two pole positions after 10 events, and both have won double-headers in rather dominant fashion.

Marketing plans don’t get much more innovative than this one, and when you use it to transform a couple of couch-bound virtual racers into legitimate motorsport athletes in short order, you know you have stumbled upon marketing gold. Hopefully the potent combination of the GT Academy and Nissan Canada’s Micra Cup Series will continue to create the next generation of racing stars and help Nissan move a few cars as well.

Nissan GT Academy Photos

Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.