The GP3 Series is one of the final steps on the path to Formula One. Running on grand prix weekends alongside the faster GP2, the series for 400bhp single-seaters is one of the top places for young drivers to refine their skills. This year, one of those drivers will be Jann Mardenborough.
The Cardiff driver has also been placed on an intensive driver development programme by reigning F1 champions Infiniti Red Bull Racing. That’s amazing support for someone in a category two rungs below F1 on the single-seater ladder. And here’s the remarkable thing: less than three years ago Mardenborough had never driven a racing car.
Mardenborough’s rapid rise through the ranks is a very modern motorsport story. Instead of learning his trade via karting and junior racing, the 22-year-old did it on his PlayStation. He entered Nissan’s worldwide GT Academy contest in 2011. The initial stages of the competition involved gamers setting a lap time on a circuit in the Gran Turismo game. The fastest entrants were given the chance to transfer their skill to the track in a series of trials, and Mardenborough won through in June 2011.
The best part of the GT Academy scheme is Nissan’s amazing commitment to the winners. There have been similar prize schemes where the winner gets a drive for a year or so, and then is left to their own devices. Nissan has stuck by the Academy winners, rewarding their talent where appropriate.