Four years ago Spaniard Lucas Ordoñez was a student in Madrid and avid PlayStation gamer – now he has a growing reputation of a star of the future and is set to race the Nissan DeltaWing through the winding elevations of Road Atlanta at Petit Le Mans.
Ordoñez was the inaugural winner of the Nissan / PlayStation GT Academy – the competition which takes avid gamers and turned them into racing drivers.
With his performances on track including a podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Spaniard is now shaking off the title of PlayStation gamer - becoming known as a highly successful racing driver.
Ordoñez recently worked with American racer Gunnar Jeannette in an extensive test program at Road Atlanta and will race with Jeannette in this year’s Petit Le Mans on October 20.
The Nissan DeltaWing debuted at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and features half the weight, half the power and half the aerodynamic drag of a typical Le Mans prototype.
Q: You started off as a gamer, playing Gran Turismo and then you took part in the Nissan / PlayStation GT Academy in 2008. Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that you’d be in the position that you are now?
A: “Definitely not! Four years ago I was a normal student from Madrid, Spain and I was focused on my studies and having a normal life.
“Look how that changed. Now I’m a racing driver, racing around the world for Nissan. And now I have the ultimate challenge, to help develop and drive the Nissan DeltaWing for the Petit Le Mans.”
Q: You’ve been driving P2-class prototypes for a couple of years now, what’s it like to make the step into the Nissan DeltaWing?
A: “It is a very big step.
“In P2, the cars are pretty well developed and the setup for the car is easier, because there is a lot of data that exists on setup and aero packages.
“The Nissan DeltaWing is a completely new car and compared to a P2 car there’s a lot more to learn. The geometry of the Michelin front tires is very innovative, as is the whole car, and there’s lots of work to continue developing the car and make it faster.
“It’s a very big chance for me as a somewhat inexperienced driver, and I’m learning quick and doing well with the team, making sure I get as much out of time in the workshop and out on the race track to help the DeltaWing program.”
Q: You are 27 and don’t have 15 or 20 years of race experience under your belt. What do you find the most challenging because of your relative inexperience?
A: “For me it’s the technical aspect. It’s the most difficult thing for a racing driver and you only get that from experience and years of developing cars and testing.
“That’s what I’m lacking at the moment. I’ve been racing for four years – two in GT racing in Europe and now two years in prototypes.
“My lack of experience in testing is the most difficult thing for me, but I’m working on improving to make sure I give better feedback to the engineer and mechanics on the team, so I can help them continue to develop the Nissan DeltaWing and make it even faster.”
Q: What are you learning from DeltaWing designer Ben Bowlby and the team?
A: “I’m learning so much from Ben, my co-driver Gunnar Jeannette and the entire team. They are just fantastic, very professional and experienced.
“Each time I come into the pits, check data or spend time with the team, especially in a testing environment, I learn something new.
“Testing dampers, springs, setup – it’s learning about the Nissan DeltaWing and being prepared for test days and the race. It pushes me to be better every day and become a more efficient driver for the team.”
Q: What are your expectations for the Nissan DeltaWing at Petit Le Mans?
A: “Our biggest objective is to finish the race. Petit Le Mans is very tough – 10 hours or 1000 miles, in a very tight and narrow track like Road Atlanta.
“Traffic will be worse than Le Mans. The circuit has ups and downs, blind corners, some bumpy tarmac and it’s a very short track in comparison to Le Mans. To finish we’ll have to get through that traffic.
“Based on the test days at Road Atlanta that we’ve had so far, the car has good pace and speed, and getting better every time we are out there.
“Overall we are all doing the best we can for every second from now until the end of the race to field the best car and get a good finish.”
Q: Nissan played quite a role in your career, what do you think about the GT Academy as a program?
A: “Well it’s thanks to Nissan and the GT Academy that I’m here. At this point I think we’ve proven that the GT Academy works and can really make real racing drivers from the Gran Turismo simulator game.
“It’s fantastic to see how the program has continued after my win in the first year and to see the progress of the other winners, including Jordan Tresson and Jann Mardenborough and the new winners from 2012.
“The program is growing year after year and it’s becoming more global, which is great news.
“But we all wouldn’t have been here, and certainly I would not have gotten any of these opportunities, without Darren Cox [General Manager, Nissan Europe]. Darren and Nissan gave me the chance in 2008 and I have been in every race car for the last four years. First it was GT cars, then P2, especially for Le Mans, and now it’s the DeltaWing for Petit Le Mans.
“Nissan have made it all possible and I am always working to improve and to be with them for a long time to come.”