Johnny Herbert admits that it has been 'an interesting journey' as he has overseen the transformation of two racing virgins into International C licence-holders who will take to the track alongside him in the fourth running of the Dubai 24 Hours in February.
Lucas Ordoñez, 23, and 28-year-old Lars Schlömer are the two successful products of the inaugural GT Academy, an international driving competition launched back in May and organised jointly by PlayStation and Nissan. The practical side of the initiative has been planned and orchestrated by Silverstone International, alongside a pan-European driving experience for customers of the GTR super saloon.
Three months ago, Ordoñez and Schlömer saw off some 25,000 fellow competitors in the virtual motoring world on the game Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on the Sony PlayStation, in so doing securing themselves a place in the GT Academy alongside 22 other national finalists.
Following that, a series of physical, mental and driving challenges at Silverstone awaited the 24 most promising candidates, and Ordoñez and Schlömer emerged on top to claim their prize – a drive in the Middle East's round-the-clock endurance test alongside former British, Italian and European Grand Prix winner Herbert and up-and-coming sportscar ace Alex Buncombe.
“It's been a very interesting journey,” Herbert told Crash.net Radio
. “I think we had 25,000 online to start with, then it was all whittled down to 24 when we were here at Silverstone, and then down to the final two.
“Obviously you've got the virtual side of it – playing racing games on the PlayStation online, and then actually going to the real thing, seeing the guys adapt and now getting to the last two with Lars and Lucas.
“It's something that has always been spoken about, for many, many years, but for racing drivers it's always been the opposite way around – you've gone from the driving to the PlayStation to learn some tracks somewhere.
“Nowadays you hear so much more about the big Formula 1 teams having proper simulators, which allow them to change all the settings on the car before they even go to a grand prix. Simulation is still a very important part of racing, so what we have now are two guys with very limited previous experience who are going to race in Dubai with me and with Alex, and we're going to kick a**e!”
The former Lotus, Benetton, Stewart and Jaguar F1 star admitted that the calibre of entrants had spanned the entire spectrum, but he added that the Spanish-German duo that had made it to the very final stage to be immersed into a specially-designed, intensive training programme had come on in quantum leaps and bounds – and was full of praise for Ordoñez and Schlömer's progress over the seven months.