12 June 2014
Le Mans 24 Hours: ‘Gamer kid’ Mardenborough eyeing Le Mans glory
Former GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough heads into his second Le Mans 24 Hours with a great shot at becoming a race winner.
He is currently best known as one of Nissan's much-discussed GT Academy 'armchair racers-turned-professional racer', but ahead of the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours, young British driver Jann Mardenborough is an excellent position to go beyond and become recognised as a race winner in one of motorsport's most gruelling competitions.
With no discernible background in motorsport, Mardenborough's rapid rise through the ranks has comes courtesy of his victory in Nissan and Sony's GT Academy, which strives to discover racing talent from unlikely sources.
Completing a number of stages, which humbly begins with simply racing on the Gran Turismo video game series and leads to several other real-world tests, Mardenborough emerged triumphant from the 2011 edition of the initiative, securing a funded drive in the 2011 Dubai 24 Hours.
Fully-supported by Nissan and Nismo Racing, 23-year-old Mardenborough has since gone on to race in European F3, Blancpain GT and this year races in the GP3 Series. He also competed in the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours, partnering the experienced Michael Krumm and fellow GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez to claim third in the LMP2 class with Graves Motorsport and returns in 2014 with OAK Racing.
From fan to professional racer in such a short space of time, though Mardenborough feels like he belongs alongside his peers, he admits he still gets excited by the company he keeps.
“It is certainly different to other people and we are referred to as the 'gamer kids',” he told Crash.net. “I quite like and it's unique tag to have as there aren't many GT Academy winners, so to come here in 2011 to watch Lucas race for the first time and then last year doing it for myself it is fantastic.
“If feel like I belong in the paddock. Maybe the first year I had that aura about me, but this year I feel 100 per cent like a professional racing driver. My second time at Le Mans means I know what I can expect. I try to take a step back and enjoy it as a spectator, because there is the risk of being get sucked in and not appreciating things as much as you should do, so it is important step back and realise it is really cool. In an autograph session I was trying to take as many photographs as I had of people taking photographs of me!
“You are treated like superheroes here, it is really weird! Everyone wants your photograph and autograph, and we try to give as much time as possible to these people. To race in the dark and to race on public roads at 195mph, it is crazy to do!
For 2014, while Ordonez has been charged with driving Nissan's unique ZEOD RC prototype, Mardenborough will line up with OAK Racing, who are spearheading Ligier's much anticipated return to sportscar competition with the Nissan-powered JS LMP2 car.
The first car to be built to the new closed-roof regulations that will become the norm in LMP2 eventually, Mardenborough – who was quickest alongside team-mates Mark Schulzitskiy and Alex Brundle in testing – says it is testament to the GT Academy programme that he is valued beyond his racing skills.
“To be back here and be fully supported by Nissan in a brand-new car, which I have been part of the development with, it is testament to the Nissan GT Academy programme because we are not only racing, we are helping with development.”
“It has been very interesting driving to new coupe. Ligier have a lot of history in F1 and the guys at OAK, which have been developing the car, have been fantastic. Driving a car that is the future of LMP2, to get that out of the way this year is pretty useful for the team.
“For me personally, as soon as the door closes it is quite claustrophobic and small inside, but the vision is really good. What I did notice last year, when you're in an open cockpit car, when you are in the slipstream of another vehicle, your head buffets a lot quite violently. This year in a tow there are no horrible effects like that and when you're stuck behind the safety car at 3am when it is raining, having a roof is a benefit too!”
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