As the 2012 British GT Championship draws to a close, one man is hoping for glory in this weekend’s final round at Donington. Jann Mardenborough, who turned twenty-one at Silverstone’s penultimate round of the series, will join team mate Alex Buncombe as they aim for championship gold.
It would top off an extraordinary year for the pair. In June last year, Jann Mardenborough had never even sat in a racing car. Now the 2011 GT Academy champion heads to Donington in the Nissan GT-R GT3 alongside RJN teammate Alex Buncombe with a real shot of winning the series.
Interview: Jann Mardenborough
JM: The main difference was the vision. For me personally, I had a little 13” television, so my eyes are constantly fixated on the screen, they don’t even move!
In a race car, especially for [Brooklands into Luffield] where you’re heading down at 150mph, you have to be looking to the left into the corner. Initially it’s difficult to do that, because you’re programmed to look dead ahead and you don’t want to look over there and it’s not where you’re going at that point. It does take a lot of practice, and that was the major difference really.
The other thing that comes with time is the sensation you get through your backside and lower spine from the car moving around beneath you. Obviously with a wheel and a game you just get all your sensations through your hands. It does help actually, it just takes a while for that to get programmed into your brain, and what’s happening at certain stages which lets you predict what’s going to happen. Those are the main two areas really but vision is the most important one to get used to.Q: On the flip side, what could you take over to real driving from the game? Was there anything you could just take straight across?
JM: Well yeah, with GT5 it’s a driving simulator so [features] things like car control, steering inputs and how to control a car mid-slide. I’d never power-slid a car before coming to GT Academy, and at the national final I had a 370z completely sideways which I’d never done before in real life. All I was doing was what I did in the game and it seemed to be working.
Heel and toe techniques, racing techniques which you can do in the game with wheel and pedals. Left foot braking, which you can practice in the game then do in real life. There’s a lot of things that you can do on the game, and I think to set a fast lap on GT5 there are certain things that you can do which then transfer across to a qualifying lap in real life. So that’s fantastic.
There’s a definite link there between hand-eye coordination that the game provides and it’s helped me out massively!Q: What do you think about the weight transfer in Gran Turismo 5? How closely does it simulate the real thing?
JM: With the new Gran Turismo 5 Academy Edition, the one that’s coming out this month, the car that’s included on there is the one which Lucas and Kazunori raced at the Nurburgring. I was there, and Polyphony had a load of sensors in the race car and from all the data that they gathered in real life, they had the car in a special version of GT5 where an engineer could edit it on the fly.
I was driving the car in the game, and Lucas said that it was exactly the same as in real life. Just that. The amount of detail that they put into it is incredible. It’s my favourite driving game anywhere.
JM: My favourite car… well it’s a Nissan GTR! But outside of that, I’d say maybe a Porsche Carrera GT is probably my favourite car.
JM: I don’t know what the plan exactly is, what I’m going to be doing, but they’re working on next year’s contracts for me and I’ll be happy whatever I’m doing.
Personally, I’d love to do another season in GT3 class, because the car’s in its first year of racing at the moment and it’s not on the pace yet to be honest. It’s not a front leading car, and we’ve been talking about the upgrades for next year, which looks really promising, and I’ve helped develop this car currently. So it would be lovely to see it when it’s got a year under its belt, and hopefully we can come out of the door strongly.
The pair are currently lying in third position in the championship with 108.5 points, behind Alasdair McCaig in the #79 BMW Z4 GT3 (112.5 points) and the pairing of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in the #21 Ferrari 458 Italia (113 points).
With 4.5 points between the top three and 37.5 points on offer, it’s the closest British GT title chase in history, so the battle is on this weekend with victory on Sunday guaranteeing either one of the top-three contenders the championship title.
Buncombe and Mardenborough were originally only due to compete in the first two rounds of the championship, as a test of both driver and car, but decided to continue after Jann’s stunning debut at a sodden Oulton Park. A maiden British GT victory at Brands Hatch spurred the pair on further and now they’re fighting for the championship in Jann’s first season of racing.
This morning’s first practice session (FP1) at Donington, saw championship leaders Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin setting the pace with a fastest lap of 1:29.428 min. Five more cars also went under the pole position time of 1:30.315 set by Stephen Jelley last year.
Alasdair McCaig, who is second in the points, finished free practice in thirteenth place (1:31.428) in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3, while Jann Mardenborough and Alex Buncombe only went seventeenth quickest (1:32.319) in their RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3.
There’s plenty of work to be done, but if anyone can do it, Jann-the-Man can.
Qualifying kicks off today (Saturday 29th) at 18:20, while Sunday’s two hour race begins at 14:40 (BST). You can follow the live timing here, while the race will be broadcast in a 90-minute programme on Motors TV at 18:00 on Sunday evening.
Image & video: Nissan Motorsport.
Interview with Jann Mardenborough: Courtesy of Peter Chapman at TheSixthAxis.com.