Jann Mardenborough is an unassuming, articulate and affable racing driver.

He is not, however, your conventional driver who’s worked their way up from karting and other similar entry-level motorsports. He’s 21 years old, and, as of 2011, had never driven a race car – at least, that is, not a real one.

In 2011 Jann was on a gap year and idly wondering what to do next. He spent a lot of time on the PS3, playing Gran Turismo to a seriously competitive degree, but that didn’t really seem set to open any doors. Then, as luck would have it, he heard about the GT Academy, a driver discovery and development scheme.

Launched in 2008 by Sony, Polyphony Digital and Nissan Europe, the GT Academy allows Gran Turismo players to compete for a chance to become a real-life racing driver, by proving their skill in the game and then seeing if those talents translate in to a real car. The top prize is a spot on the Nissan racing team, and all the training and licensing necessary.

Online time trials, using Nissan cars, are used to narrow down the candidates, after which a national final takes place where the remaining competitors race in a series of elimination rounds. The top performers are then invited to drive real-life Nissans at Silverstone to test their agility, skill and stamina, allowing the judges to see who has what it takes to become a professional driver.