How a video game made a regular 9 to 5 guy from India a race car driver

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Added in: Features

gt academy

The world has moved on from 8 and 16-bit racing games to stuff that replicates world famous racing tracks and lets you drive any exotic machine of your choice virtually. At the forefront of this evolution has been the Gran Turismo series available on the Sony Playstation console. If driving a Ferrari 458 Italia on the Nurburgring or plummeting down the ‘Cork-screw’ at the Laguna Seca has been on your bucket list, you can now put half a tick against it. Almost all of the world’s famous tracks feature in the game, along with an exhaustive list of cars which includes the Suzuki Swift, a Ferrari F1 car and everything else in between. The tracks have been replicated to near perfection, where every curve, every dip, every elevation and even the camber matches the real thing.

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It doesn’t stop just here. The Nissan Playstation GT Academy is a collaboration between the makers of the game and the car maker from Japan, which travels across the globe scurrying for raw racing talent. The event allows a gamer to post the fastest lap time across a circuit, post which participants are shortlisted, assessed for their fitness and motor skills and the lucky and fast few are then chosen to compete against international challengers. The fastest amongst all is then nurtured to become a real racing driver.

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The Nissan Playstation GT Academy saw its inaugural run in India this year. Special gaming rigs were setup across cities, where aspirants could come and post the fastest lap time around a virtual Silverstone circuit. The talented few went through elimination rounds in Jaipur, where we were hand-picked as one of the 5 judges for the media test. After sessions which tested them for fitness, driving skills, endurance and everything else a Race car driver should be, six of them travelled to Silverstone, U.K, reresenting India alongside 27 international competitors, representing six countries, split into five territory groups.

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Abhinay Bikkani, 24, from Bangalore, India, won a spot on the podium in the coveted final race at the Nissan Playstation GT Academy International 2014 Race Camp in Silverstone. Abhinay finished third after John Muggleton of Australia and the overall winner Ricardo Sanchez of Mexico. Middle East’s Ahmed Bin-Khanen and Thailand’s Thanaroj Thanasitnitiket finished in fourth and fifth place respectively.

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We spoke with the man himself, who was a regular 9 to 5 production manager before he realised his skills. The bloke worships Ayrton Senna and spends his free time running, cycling and go-karting.

1) How does it feel?

The feedback and attention i’ve been receiving from people has been amazing. Although i have raced earlier in the Toyota EMR series, this is a new experience. Making motor racing a career has always been my dream and there is no other such event in the world which lets you journey from being a gamer to a pro racing driver. There aren’t too many ways of getting into Motor racing and one could take the long way round to begin with karting and then gradually climb the ladder to touring and formula cars.

Playing Gran Turismo has helped so much, i was driving a virtual Nissan GT-R around the Silverstone, 15 minutes prior to getting into the real thing at the Mecca of Motorsports, the game is that good.

2) Video games are normally played with hand-held controllers. How did you transform those skills into handling a full-blown race-spec car?

Most of my gaming experience on Gran Turismo was using a controller. When i went to the elimination rounds, i realised how i wasn’t so comfortable with the gaming wheel. So it was 10 days before the national finals, when i went out and bought a steering wheel to polish my skills further. However, mastering the racing lines or the braking points within the game can be done using the controller too, it is only when you need to reproduce the full-blown experience, you need to purchase one of those gaming wheels, which has a proper clutch and a brake pedal and even weighs up according to the car and the track conditions.

3) Have you competed in any local racing events?

I did score some experience on the track at the BIC and the MMRT in the EMR series in 2013. Participating in two rounds, which consisted of four races each did give me a lot of confidence and some much needed experience on the track.

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4) The event focuses on fitness too. Do you visit the gym regularly?

I was training for the event after watching videos of the elimination rounds which happened in other regions. The training did not focus too much on muscle building, but included exhaustive cardio for building stamina. However, even now, my fitness has to improve if i have to compete internationally.

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5) What’s the way forward now?

I will be participating in the upcoming racing event at the MMRT and will ensure i continue racing. I plan to make this as my full-time career now and will take each race at a time, to learn and improvise from my experience on the track.

6) Any tips for the GT Academy aspirants in the coming years?

My advice would be, be as prepared as you can. The worst feeling would be if you come out of the academy, feeling there was scope for improvement and you could’ve done better. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, ensure if you have the skills, you the make the most out of it. Fitness is paramount and being a team-player is key. Try and get some track time if you can and ensure you enhance your skills virtually whenever possible.