Over the years, there have been a huge number of racing games developed for car enthusiasts the world over, with varying levels of success. Some are gimmicky, some are arcadish, but a select few video games made have been designed to keep racing realistic, often with manic levels of attention to detail.
Known as racing simulators, or simply ‘sims', these games try to achieve maximum levels of realism and engaging gampelay. However, even amongst this elite list of racing games, there is one that stands out - Gran Turismo.
Gran Turismo, or ‘GT', is easily one of best simulators around today, with the game now close to reaching its seventh iteration. This best-selling and much respected sim played a very important role in India over the last few weeks, as it was the platform for a very special national talent hunt organised by Nissan across the country, a search for a top racing driver for the 2015 GT Academy.
20 finalists with the best lap times of a shortened Silverstone circuit were selected for a final ‘boot camp' in Chennai, from a total 10,000-odd participants from all over the country. Interestingly, the largest number of finalists hailed from Bangalore, while Delhi saw maximum participation. There was increased female participation this year too - around 5 percent of the hopefuls were women.
Wednesday morning arrived with the participants eagerly awaiting to prove themselves, their quiet discussions over breakfast surely hiding some of the biggest butterflies they'd have had to have dealt with in their lives.
We were soon at the MMSCI circuit in Sriperumbudur, and Chennai's over-enthusiastic heat welcomed the invitees to the day's proceedings. Post briefing by Nissan's boffins, we moved over to the hot tarmac to witness the participants in action, with many driving on a proper racetrack for the very first time.
Karun Chandok was mentor to the finalists, and played an active role over the course of the day, encouraging and advising them, in addition to taking the time to patiently go through several rounds of interviews and questions from the media.
The 20 finalists pushed stock Nissan Micras to their maximum capability, with each driver being trained by Nissan pros. They put down practice laps of a short section of the track, before setting their final numbers for the driving round were tallied. Seen here is one of Micras being put through its pace in the slalom section.
All drivers were tested on their car maneuvering and braking skills as well, with penalties handed out for touching cones and the such. The adjoining picture shows how the braking test was performed - drivers had to hit speed and come to a dead halt without knocking over any of the markers.
However, since competitive motorsport demands a lot more than just good driving skills, there were to be rigorous rounds of competition to adjudge the competitors' fitness levels. While some shone in the driving tests, others shone in these physically demanding rounds that were held indoors and out in the open on the track tarmac. Make no mistake, these were serious tests, which demanded high levels of fitness.
The media was not to be left out of the fun, with Nissan organising a special category for invited journalists to showcase their talent on the simulators. Some used pillows to prop themselves up for that ideal position in the pods, others operated the foot pedals barefeet - all the tricks in the book were pulled out for this extremely competitive event as well. DriveSpark began promisingly, posting the second best time in the first round, but a couple of mistakes saw us missing out on the final podium.
But the highlight of the event was certainly not the journalists, but which six of those 20 aspiring racing drivers would make the final cut for a week of training with the other international finalists at the hallowed ground of the Silverstone circuit, UK. There was a hushed silence in anticipation of the winners' announcement, but it was to be Abhishek Dwarknath, Anush Chakravarthi, Askhay Gupta, Dhruv Dayal, Jaideep Chahal, and Shantanu Kallianpukar that finally evoked the cheers of all the attendees.
The Nissan GT Academy is, in our opinion, one of the best things that happened to Indian motorsport, since, like Karun Chandok highlighted, one does not need to go through the worst part of beginning a career in racing, and that is getting sponsorship. Since Nissan hosts, conditions, and sponsors selected drivers, it is a truly great platform for the nation's aspiring racers to look towards. Daresay like this year, every year will spawn even better applicants and more intense levels of competition. We thank Nissan India for making us part of this exciting initiative.