Red Bull Junior Team sign up GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough for GP3 Series
IF you could look up the definition of the phrase “living every kid’s dream” you would probably find a picture of Jann Mardenborough.
The 22-year-old has just been tabbed by F1 team boss Christian Horner as a potential Formula 1 star of the future, signing him up to the prestigious Red Bull Junior Team, the same squad that produced Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.
The difference is, the Welshman didn’t learn his trade with a go kart.
Jann MardenboroughSource: Supplied
He learnt it with a PlayStation controller.
Two years ago, Mardenborough beat 90,000 other entrants to win the GT Academy, a competition run by Nissan and Sony through popular video game Gran Turismo 5.
From a series of races online against other gamers around Europe, Mardenborough won through to the final 12, enduring a gruelling five-day ‘Race Camp’ where their fitness was put to the test by marines and their skills tested by former races in a series of training sessions.
It boiled down to a 20-minute race in identically-prepared Nissan 370Zs, Mardenborough winning by a comfortable eight seconds.
After a year racing GT cars for Nissan, Mardenborough switched to open-wheelers to try and crack F1. He spent the 2013 season racing in British and European Formula 3, collecting a podium finish at the Le Mans 24 Hour sports car race with fellow GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez along the way.
Now his F1 dream could become a reality, graduating to Horner’s GP3 Series team with the full backing of Red Bull behind him.
“I feel ready for GP3,” he said. “I’ve prepared well and I have all the right people around me to help my development so I can fully focus on my racing.”
Watch how Mardenborough goes in the 2014 GP3 Series on SPEED (Foxtel channel 512).
Along with GP3, Mardenborough will also spend plenty of time in Red Bull’s simulators, now a standard piece of kit for most racing teams, who have turned to computers to develop their cars and drivers as racing series around the world increasingly restrict real life testing.
“They were really interested in me because of where I have come from and the PlayStation side of things so they were quite interested in my thoughts on their simulator.
“We are going to be working quite closely together throughout the season and it will help me learn the new tracks like Russia and the Hungaroring that I haven’t been to before and get me ready for GP3.”
About to enter its sixth season of competition, GT Academy has sprouted programs across Europe, Russia, Great Britain and the USA, with graduates beginning to make their mark in motorsport.
Along with Mardenborough, Ordonez has developed into a seasoned sports car racer, sampling a Nissan V8 Supercar last season. The Spaniard will race for the brand in this year’s SuperGT series in Japan. Recent graduate Wolfgang Reip, who won the 2012 edition, recently won his class at this year’s Dubai 24 Hour, aboard a car exclusively crewed by GT Academy winners.
Reip, a 26-year-old Belgian, joined V8 racer Rick Kelly aboard Nissan’s entry to the recent Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
Visiting last year’s Bathurst 1000, Nissan’s global director of motorsport, Darren Cox, mentioned to the media that an Australian version of the competition was being investigated.
“Nissan Motor Company Australia has been watching the success of GT Academy very closely of late, particularly as we have ramped up our own Motorsport activities over the past 12-18 months,” Nissan told SPEED in a statement on Tuesday.
“We continue to work closely with our Nissan colleagues globally and our partners at Sony as we investigate potential opportunities to bring the program to Australia.
“We would love to see an Australian follow in the footsteps of graduates such as Lucas, ‘Wolfie’ and Jann.”
Mardenborough is now the poster boy for any aspiring racer. Although he raced karts as a youngster, his local track shut down when he was 11 and his family had no for their boy to keep racing.
What could have been the end of his racing career was in fact the beginning. He picked up a PlayStation controller, and the rest is history.
The only question that now remains is just how far can he go? Can a gamer really make it to Formula 1?
Andy Damerum, Red Bull Racing’s driver development manager, is interested to see how Mardenborough fares.
“We have been tracking Nissan’s innovative approach to motorsport and in particular GT Academy that challenges the status quo of motorsport.
The traditional route to F1 of karting and single-seaters is a tried and tested success, but Nissan and PlayStation have gone down a very different road and started to find some very talented drivers who have been doing all their practising on a games console.
“I’m very interested to see how Jann fares on our program and in GP3 this season, and I look forward to taking him under the Infiniti Red Bull Racing wing to further progress his career.”
Mardenborough’s first GP3 race comes in 80 days time at Barcelona in Spain.