Lucas Ordonez: from Gran Turismo to Le Mans
Spaniard Lucas Ordonez is an ordinary guy just like you and me, or at least he used to be.
Three years ago he was studying for his MBA in Madrid, but now he is a professional racing driver preparing to enter perhaps the most prestigious race in the world – the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Autoblog UK spoke to the 25-year-old not long after finishing second in class at the Sebring 12 Hours – only his second outing in an LMP2 prototype car and the first race in a new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) partnership between Nissan and the Signature Racing team from France.
It's been a long journey for Lucas, squeezed into a remarkably short space of time.
Lucas won the inaugural GT Academy in 2009 – a competition held in conjunction with Nissan and Playstation that saw 25,000 gamers from across Europe doing hot laps in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on the PS3 with the fastest selected to try their hand in real Nissan 350Z racing cars.
"Three years ago I was studying for an MBA in Madrid, I was a normal student like everyone," he says. "When I heard about GT Academy I entered the competition online – playing on the Playstation at home changed my life!"
Lucas was sent from Spain to the Silverstone final and eventually emerged as the GT Academy champion after a gruelling weeklong fight at Silverstone – his driving skills were there, but he wasn't as fit as he needed to be.
Was he confident about winning? "On day three or four I was in sixth position in the rankings, so I was struggling at that point. But I did a good job and ended up winning by the end of the week," he says.
Lucas did some karting in Spain when he was younger, but had to give up at 16 because of a lack of funds: "I tried to be a racing driver as a hobby, but it wasn't possible – you need lots of money and lots of sponsorship, which I wasn't able to get."
That dream had to take a back seat to his studies, but when you talk to Lucas his infectious enthusiasm for motorsport is clear – he has followed absolutely everything since he was 10 - and let's face it, he's actually pretty good at it.
He won the first GT Academy, got his Dubai 24 Hour race drive as a prize and impressed Nissan enough that they signed him for two years in the GT4 European Cup, driving a 350Z in 2009, winning two races and finishing second in the championship, and then developing the 370Z racer in 2010.
He had impressed so much by then that he was offered an outing in an LMP2 prototype endurance car – a completely different level from racing production-based tintops – and then a drive in the ILMC.
Is he enjoying the challenge? "Definitely – the car is nice to drive and the speed through the corners is incredible."
He has had to up his game though: "It's totally different to drive - the GT4 class cars are much less powerful, they don't have the downforce or carbon brakes that the prototypes have. I'm getting used to it – I need to change my driving style to adapt."
For the moment there's training in the gym every day and preparing for the next ILMC race at Spa, his favourite track. Lucas sees every day as an opportunity to develop: "I'm learning from the team and learning from my team mates who are really experienced in this sort of racing. I'm sure I need to learn a lot until Le Mans, but I'm sure I'll be ready for it."
His is an exciting story – and the 2011 GT Academy competition has just started in the UK. What would Lucas say to someone thinking of entering? "Every driver on the Playstation can be a professional driver – we've proven that since the first GT Academy.
"Everyone who loves motorsport, who wants to learn more about how to take the lines, where to brake - they can transfer that from virtual to reality and they can win the GT Academy."
It might have become a terrible cliché, but Lucas Ordonez is a nice guy living the dream: "I'm racing at the top level of motorsport with the best drivers in endurance racing, it's amazing. This sport is really tough, everyone needs lots of support and money to keep going. To do Le Mans is a dream for all drivers, though, and especially for me."