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WEC: Nissan eyes US talent for LMP1 programme

Nissan will return to the talent pool created by its GT Academy initiative as it seeks to build up its LMP1 sportscar squad.

Nissan is looking for an American driver to join its new LMP1 programme, and will return to its innovative GT Academy initiative to give a former 'gamer' the opportunity to graduate to the highest levels of the sportscar scene.

The competition is already renowned as one of the most unusual driver development programmes in history, with GP3 driver Jann Mardenborough flying the flag in Europe, but Nissan has now revealed that US winners Bryan Heitkotter, Steve Doherty and Nick McMillen - plus a number of other past American finalists - will be given the chance to impress the team's bosses.

Nissan's new LMP1 team will have a base in the US, currently setting up shop by refurbishing the Indianapolis headquarters of former Champ Car team Forsythe Racing, in order to take advantage of track facilities in the warmer climate of the southern states to test its new machine, which will do battle against Audi, Porsche and Toyota from next year.

“All the US winners of GT Academy have gone on to taste victory in major professional events around the world,” Darren Cox, global head of brand at NISMO, confirmed, “But we have also been blessed with some other amazing talents in every year of the competition – an embarrassment of riches really. Some of the guys who didn't win have gone on to launch motorsport careers after using GT Academy as a kickstart.

“We have our eye on some additional drivers that we would like to put through their paces again and see if we have somebody who could have what it takes to drive for Nissan in LMP1 at Le Mans.”

Nissan today also announced that it will be the sole engine supplier for the new LM P3 class that will contest the European Le Mans Series from next year, and will use the development as a step on the ladder for its chosen talent.

“Once we identify the most suitable GT Academy alumni, we will put him through an extensive programme with the aim of putting them in an LMP3 car,” Cox acknowledged, “LMP2 would be the next step at Le Mans – we'll use every driver development tool we have to take them to the next level but they will also have to step up. It is going to take more than just talent to get them into an LMP1 car, but the opportunity will be there if they are prepared to work for it.”

Cox also noted that it wasn't just American talent being evaluated for the LMP1 programme, with the likes of Mardenborough and Lucas Ordonez already racing LMP machinery on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Getting experience in prototype machinery will be a critical component of the development process,” Cox confirmed, “We already have a number of past GT Academy winners from Europe who we are looking at for the LMP1 programme – many of whom have already raced in LMP2.”

Heitkotter and Doherty will compete at Circuit of The Americas in the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge as team-mates at Skullcandy Team Nissan aboard a Nissan Altima 3.5 this weekend, while 2013 competition winner McMillen will race for Nissan GT Academy Team RJN at the Nurburgring round of the Blancpain Endurance Championship.

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