Jann Mardenborough: Gamer turned racer has been signed by Red Bull
Red Bull have signed PlayStation gamer-turned-racer Jann Mardenborough to an "intensive driver development programme" and the Welshman will race in GP3 with Arden International in 2014.
The 22-year-old won Nissan's GT Academy in 2011, an online competition which saw him compete against over 90,000 other gamers before the players were whittled down to a final 12 for a week-long race camp at Silverstone.
The Briton got his first virtual racing experience when he was just eight years old when he sampled the original Gran Turismo game at a friend's house. Mardenborough was immediately hooked and continued to play the games, entering the online competition on Gran Turismo 5 whilst on a gap year from university.
Jann Mardenborough: Learnt to race on a PlayStation
Having made it into the final 12, the decisive race camp began at the Le Mans 24 Hours where Mardenborough met former competition winner Lucas Ordonez, who was making his debut in the famous event. The competitors then took part in an endurance event of their own on the kart track.
The next leg of the event took the competitors to Silverstone where marines put them through their paces with military-style training, resulting in three competitors dropping out of the session.
They were then put through various driving tests along with further fitness assessments before the competitors were whittled down to six for a final day of competition. That was then reduced to four after the drivers sampled a GT4 Nissan 370z race car ahead of a final race on the Silverstone National Circuit which Mardenborough won by eight seconds.
Jann Mardenborough: Celebrates winning GT Academy with mentor Johnny Herbert
Having emerged as the eventual victor, Mardenborough became a works driver with Nissan, and was fast-tracked through the motorsport ranks, coming close to winning the British GT title in 2012 and finishing on the LMP2 podium at Le Mans last year.
Alongside his endurance commitments in 2013, the Briton got his first experience of single-seater racing as he competed in the FIA European F3 and British F3 Championships. Mardenborough is now hopeful that the step up to GP3 with Christian Horner's Arden International team will help him achieve his aim of racing in Formula 1.
"That will be the ultimate goal, but we are just trying to see how far we can go up the ladder and see if I can keep improving. If I keep improving then I think that is possible," he told Sky Sports Online.
"It is certainly a step up from Formula 3 last year. I tested the car in Abu Dhabi last November and we decided that this would be the best option for my development and my learning for this year. I am really looking forward to it and obviously they are closely linked to Red Bull."
Jann Mardenborough drives Red Bull's simulator
His links with Red Bull will mainly involve simulator work with the World Champions keen to harness the knowledge of a driver whose background is in the virtual world, rather than the traditional karting route.
"With Red Bull it is going to be predominantly on the simulator and helping to develop their simulator and maybe move it forwards," Mardenborough continued.
"They were really interested in me because of where I have come from and the PlayStation side of things so they were quite interested in my thoughts on their simulator. We are going to be working quite closely together throughout the season and it will help me learn the new tracks like Russia and the Hungaroring that I haven't been to before and get me ready for GP3."
Mardenborough's development programme should not be confused with the Red Bull young driver programme which has brought Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat in recent years into F1, but the Briton is hoping he can impress enough that he could be considered for a Toro Rosso seat in the future.
"That would be fantastic," he added.
"I am just trying to push as hard as I can, whether that be in the training, whether that be in the simulator or whether that be in the race car and we will see what comes of it. The Red Bull programme is very appealing to a lot of drivers and whilst obviously the Infiniti Red Bull programme is slightly different, I am hoping that we can get something good out of it."
Jann Mardenborough: Tested for Arden in Abu Dhabi last November
Arden International won the GP3 drivers' title with Kvyat last year, but Mardenborough isn't looking that far ahead just yet. He is, though, hoping to stand on the top step of the podium at least once this season.
"I haven't really thought about it. We were pretty strong in the testing, I've just come back from racing in a series in New Zealand in which I finished second compared to the year before when I was down in tenth," he explained.
"But I think if we can challenge for some wins - after the first few days of testing we will get a better idea of where we are - but I'd like to think we can challenge for some wins and take it from there really."
Red Bull's junior programme is one of the most developed in the world, but the World Champions say they are excited to see how a gamer-turned-racer fares on their programme compared to those taking a more traditional route.
"We have been tracking Nissan's innovative approach to motorsport and in particular GT Academy that challenges the status quo of motorsport," Red Bull Racing's driver development manager Andy Damerum said.
"The traditional route to F1 of karting and single-seaters is a tried-and-tested success but Nissan and PlayStation have gone down a very different road and started to find some very talented drivers who have been doing all their practicing on a games console. I'm very interested to see how Jann fares on our programme and in GP3 this season and I look forward to taking him under the Infiniti Red Bull Racing wing to further progress his career."
Jann Mardenborough: Winner of GT Academy in 2011