Nissan's new year of motorsport gets underway this weekend when the spotlight falls on the newest NISMO Athletes who take on the challenge of racing the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the Dubai 24 Hours.
Just a few months after winning GT Academy, the international line-up of Frenchman Gaetan Paletou, Mexican Ricardo Sanchez, Ahmed Bin-Khanen from Saudia Arabia and the USA's Nicolas Hammann, will join German NISMO Athlete Florian Strauss in Nissan's 550+ bhp GT3 GT-R to compete in the top class in Dubai against some of the best drivers in the world.
With 28 cars in their class and over 90 cars entered for the race, Dubai 2015 looks set to provide what has become a traditional baptism of fire for the new recruits.
Gaetan Paletou follows in the footsteps of past winners of the European competition, including Lucas Ordonez, Jann Mardenborough and Wolfgang Reip. The 22 year-old Frenchman was working for his family's packaging company when he won GT Academy last summer.
"I'm feeling excited about the race in Dubai as this is the event that we have been working towards for the past few months," said Gaetan. "I have done a lot of work in the simulator and I am fitter than ever before – even going as far as to do heat training to prepare for Dubai. We raced the Nissan 370Z during the driver development program but we had a two-day test in the GT-R and it was the highlight of this experience so far for me. We will find out if we have the pace for the podium once we get into qualifying in Dubai but even then it is a long race. I hope I can do everything the team asks of me."
Ricardo Sanchez is the first winner of the new-for-2014 -GT Academy International' competition. The 24 year-old Mexican had just finished his studies as Mechanical Engineer and was about to start his Masters degree when he dropped everything in order to follow his dream.
"I drove the GT-R for the first time recently and there are no words to describe the handling, the sound and the adrenaline this car makes you feel," said Ricardo. "I want to be on the podium in Dubai and I will do my best to get Nissan the best possible result. I understand that anything can happen in a 24 hour race so our focus will be on finishing and I'm sure if we can do that the results will follow."
The new recruit's mentor in Dubai is Florian Strauss, winner of 2012 GT Academy Germany. He understands the pressure they are under as he made his own international debut at Dubai just one year ago.
"I did some big 24-hour races last year, including the Nurburgring 24 Hours, which I think is the toughest," said Florian. "I will be able to share my experience with the new guys, although they are all pretty fast already! I think the area where I can really help them is how to handle a 24-hour race when you are not in the car. It's all about conserving your energy and keeping a cool head and that can be tough in these races. On a personal level, this is a big event for me and I want the best possible result. It is a very long night in Dubai, not just a few hours of darkness like at Le Mans, so it is a big challenge for everyone."
"Dubai is the biggest test for the new NISMO Athletes, said Darren Cox, Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales, NISMO. "They stay under the radar while they are going through the first stages of the driver development program but in Dubai they will be under the spotlight. It is always interesting for me to see how they perform at this early stage. The fact that Florian – 18 months as a racing driver but already a -veteran' of three 24-hour races – is their mentor shows how fast our drivers develop."
The race gets underway this Friday at 1400hrs local time (+4hours GMT). The full 24-hour race will be televised live for the first time on Motors TV and broadcast live on Radio Le Mans.