Nicolas Hammann was named the winner of the 2014 Nissan GT Academy at Silverstone Circuit in England, earning him a race at the Dubai 24 Hours and a chance to live his dream as a professional racecar driver.
Nicolas Hammann was named the winner of the 2014 Nissan GT Academy at Silverstone Circuit in England, earning him a race at the Dubai 24 Hours and a chance to live his dream as a professional racecar driver.
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Nissan GT Academy winner goes from video game to race track

Kiel High School graduate Nicolas Hammann was named the 2014 Nissan GT Academy winner at Silverstone Circuit in England.
At the beginning of 2014, Hammann was a pretty typical college student with a big dream that maybe seemed just out of reach. But as the last twelve months progressed, Hammann's dreams took shape and by December, he boarded a plane to make his way to Dubai as a professional racecar driver.
"It was an amazing feeling to cross that last finish line in the competition," Hammann said. "Reality hasn't totally settled in."
The GT Academy contest, which on many levels defies both common sense and motorsports tradition, finds potential racecar drivers through a video game; Sony Playstation's Gran Turismo.
Nissan and Sony held the first GT Academy in 2008. Since then, the virtual-to-reality contest allows the best Gran Turismo players to compete for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a professional racecar driver.
The contests exposes racing enthusiasts across regions of the world to participate, creating an opportunity which may not have otherwise existed for a majority of its contestants.
Hammann was the winner out of 450,000 people that began the 2014 GT Academy challenge.

A non-traditional road
Although his journey to Silverstone began in front of his TV, Hammann is no stranger to life on a track. He was raised in rural Elkhart Lake, not far from historic Road America, by parents Gary and Debbie. Hammann also has two older sisters, Amanda and Jenna.
Growing up, the family was almost always involved in racing. When Gary gave it up, the Hammanns bought a go-kart and started at the Karting Kettle in Elkhart Lake.
"We got out butts kicked that first year, but learned a lot and spent a lot of time getting better. We eventually won three championships in Elkhart," Hammann said.
The thrill on the track, followed by the successful learning curve, kept Hammann involved long enough to take it to the next level.
At age 16, Hammann was in high school when the family bought a car to race in STU and STL categories in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing. As a junior in high school, Hammann got a chance to race in the historic June Sprints. He also competed in races at Mid-Ohio, Blackhawk Farms, and Gingerman Raceway throughout the year.
When his high school career began winding down, it was time to start thinking about the future.
"My dad always told me to find something I loved to do and it wouldn't really be work," Hammann said.
Although he dreamed of becoming a professional driver, racing costs money and sponsorships, and Hammann new that the traditional road was a far cry from reality.
Hammann graduated from Kiel in 2012 and after, began pursuing a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering with a motorsports emphasis at University North Carolina, Charlotte. His hope was to eventually become a test driver, optimally the next best thing to being a professional driver.

It started with a video game
If ever there was a concept that pushes the boundaries of tradition, it's the GT Academy.
Hammann said he learned about the program while he was a senior in high school.
To make it to the next level of the GT Academy challenge for North America, racers must make it in the top 32 entries by logging their fastest lap times on a specific course.
"The first time I heard about it, the whole thing seemed far fetched," Hammann said of the concept.
Regardless, he decided to give it a try and see where he ranked. As a senior in high school, Hammann made it just outside the top 100 entries in his first year out of about half a million others. As a freshman in college, he finished in the top 60 when reality set in about his potential.
While at Road America the following summer, Hammann met one of the previous winners of the GT Academy who shared a bit of his story.
As it turns out, the previous winner was a former parts delivery driver for a car dealership. He entered the challenge and beat his competition to be crowned a Nissan Athlete. He was now racing in a Continental Title Race in Elkhart Lake, a long way from a stock room.
"That was the first time I saw the potential for real," Hammann said as he found common ground with the racer's story.
From there Hammann became determined and played the game rigorously, studying courses and lap times entered by other competitors.
It's not a common occurrence for families to encourage excessive video game play for their child, but when Hammann's parents saw the real potential in the GT Academy, they did just that.
For Christmas last year, Hammann's mom surprised him with a better steering console and controller for him to dial into a better time on the game.
With a lot of hope and determination, Hammann got to practicing.

Qualifying for National Finals
After Easter, this year's GT Academy began qualifying rounds with a selected course and lap time. When the qualifying round ended after Father's Day, Hammann found himself in the top 20, earning him a trip to New York City.
The game wasn't an easy task for the already busy college student. Hammann said the practice was very deliberate as he studied other times to help him hit every turn just right. On average, he logged nearly 300 miles a day.
Qualifying for the National Finals meant Hammann would earned a trip to New York City to compete for the GT Academy Race Camp at England's legendary Silverstone raceway. Qualifying for Silverstone would mean he would need to finish in the top 12 at nationals.
As one of the younger competitors, Hammann went wheel-to-wheel with the best Gran Turismo drivers in America.
In it's first move past the virtual game, Nissan also took qualifiers through fitness and skill testing. After spending July 9 and 10 in Times Square competing for his opportunity, Hammann finished in the top 12 and earned a trip to England.

Preparing for anything
After the National Finals, the competition puts the video game aside and things move onto pavement for the GT Academy Race Camp in England.
The finalists would compete down to the last man, who would be crowned champion after the week long race camp. The winner would earn an opportunity to become a professional driver, racing in the Dubai 24 Hours race in January in the United Arab Emirates.
Hammann was also a college student, expecting to return to North Carolina in September to continue schooling. If he would win the competition though, he would commit to the GT Academy Driver Development Program from September to November, putting school on the back-burner.
In case he did not win, Hammann moved things back to North Carolina so he could return to school.
"I tried not to think ahead to much past Silverstone," Hammann said. "I was really focused on trying to win. My dad and I developed a training plan to prepare and I trained everyday."
The physicality of being a racecar driver was something that Hammann took seriously.
"I knew I had to be in shape," he said. "I ran everyday and lifted weights three times a week."
No stranger competition and training, Hammann was a standout track runner in high school, setting the Kiel High School record for the 800 meters and competing at the state level.
Hammann also revisited his video game to prepare for turns and track info at Silverstone.
"Whatever I could do to prepare," Hammann said. "I wanted to be ready."
Nissan would test every contestant on speed, strength, and soul. Hammann new he needed all three. Setting priority with opportunity, he prepared for a week-long stay in England during August, unsure of whether or not he'd be returning to school.

Across the pond to England
The GT Academy brought a plethora of challenges for competitors trying to earn their place as a Nissan Athlete.
Testing mental and physical abilities, even through injury, the finalists competed through eliminations during the six day challenge at Silverstone.
On top of it all, the contest was also being turned into a reality television show, which aired six episodes on Spike TV.
Hammann opted to keep a journal of some of his experiences, one he will be able to look back on to relive some of the best and worst moments.
On the first day, Hammann took a walk near the track with one of the other competitors. He wrote, "Parker and I walked around the track, and as we walked around I saw the podium. I could only imagine what the week would bring."
"I remember being excited to be there," Hammann said of writing the first day. "Everyone was kind of sizing each other up and I was just trying to keep to myself a little bit, not giving to much away."
As the youngest of the top 12, Hammann said he didn't factor his age into the equation and wasn't intimidated at all by the other drivers.
At the first day's challenge, Hammann found himself in a benchmarking race which would test drivers' speed. Although he was confident after his run, Hammann found himself at the bottom of the list.
He wrote in his journal later that day, "I was in awe and thought I was going to get eliminated right there, and how my opportunity was gone to be the next Nismo Athlete"
Looking back, Hammann said, "Speed is something you either have, or you don't. It was a very humbling experience to be in right away because I knew I had to learn some new things to compete. I asked a lot of questions, often, and tried to correct my mistakes."
Later in the day, the drivers competed in a quadratholon which tested their racing abilities along with physical endurance while running and biking. Hammann won the race with a strong lead.
"I was so relieved when I crossed that finish line because I knew I kept myself from being eliminated," he wrote in his journal.
Winning the quadratholon gave Hammann the confidence and assurance he needed while proving to his competitors that he had a right to be there.
Hammann said that growing up racing helped give him good perspective for the competition.
While doing interviews for the TV show, Hammann says it gave him time to reflect.
"The interviews and media stuff gave me a chance to think about things," he said. "I felt like I had a lot of time to visualize things and it helped me mentally prepare for the challenges ahead."
On day four, Hammann found himself in good standing after surviving the first few rounds of eliminations. The group raced 30 laps around another track and Hammann found himself with an opportunity to win against one of his main competitors, Tommy. He again crossed the finish line in first place.
"After beating Tommy, I started to feel like I could really win," Hammann said.

Finding his way to the podium
The competition whittled down to the last day and four final competitors. Hammann stood among those hoping to be crowned the champion.
With a final race to go, Hammann was hopeful in his ability to prove himself worthy. The final race would not necessarily crown the champion, but Hammann knew that if won the last challenge he had a chance at winning it all.
Getting into his car before the final race, one of the instructors helped him in and said, "This is going to be a defining moment in your racing career."
With that, Hammann lined up for a chance to live his wildest dream.
As the race started, Hammann got out smooth and was happy to hit all his shifts. Taking the lead, he began to pull away until he finally found the checkered flag. He was signalled to the pits while the judges made their final decision.
Waiting to hear the announcement, Hammann remembers when his name was called. He had done it. He had won the 2014 Nissan GT Academy.
What he had envisioned the first night had come true and he stood atop the podium as the champion.
"It was one of the best moments of my life," Hammann said.
While on the podium someone handed Hammann a cell phone and asked if he wanted to call home. In the midnight hours, he phoned home and his dad answered from around the world.
"We were both in awe and I handed the phone to Danny Sullivan so my dad could talk to him," Hammann said.
Overhearing the conversation, Hammann heard Sullivan say something like, "Gary, you don't have to talk him up anymore, he already won."

Preparing for Dubai
After winning the GT Academy, plans started to take shape for the fall.
Instead of returning to North Carolina, Hammann would put a bookmark in his schooling and return to England to begin his driver development training in preparation for his first professional race in Dubai; the Dubai 24 Hours.
The race would include other GT Academy winners in a 24-hour race that would be done by each driver in segments.
Because the TV show would air until November, Hammann says he had to keep everything under wraps about what he was doing.
"The contract that I signed meant I couldn't tell people, other than my family, whether I had won or lost," he said. "Starting school in a different state was helpful. I told my friends in Wisconsin I was in North Carolina and I told my classmates in North Carolina I was working a co-op program away from school. All the while I was really in England training."
With his new celebrity status in the racing community, Hammann returned from England in early November where he had to work out in secrecy.
"I couldn't tell people I was home because it would give it all away, so I really to keep to myself," he said.
While in England, Hammann said he did other races as part of his training and preparation. Since he couldn't put down his real name, he used the alias Paul Brown in honor of the man who taught him a lot about racing.
Along with GT Academy winners from France, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, Hammann recently headed to the airport after Christmas in route to Dubai where he will take shifts of 70 minutes in his car during the race.
"The goal is to finish well on the podium," he said. "From there it's to develop well enough to where you are fitting into a contract next year."
Hammann has hopes to earn a contract in Europe for the next season after his race in Dubai. The whirl-wind of a year transformed a hopeful college student into a professional racecar driver and Hammann's journey proves that no matter the road, there is always opportunity.
For more information on Nic, follow him on Twitter or check out www.nicolashammann.com. To watch the Spike TV episodes of the 2014 Nissan GT Academy, go to www.spike.com/shows/nissan-gt-academy/episode-guide.


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