For Nissan's newest crop of NISMO Athletes, Friday's Dubai 24 Hours is the dawn of a professional racing career. For Nic Hammann and his three teammates, it is time to test their talent against some of the world's best endurance drivers.
With 28 cars in their class and over 90 cars entered for the race at the 2.5-mile Dubai Autodrome circuit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai 2015 looks to be a baptism of fire for the newest GT Academy Champions.
The 21-year old Wisconsin native Hammann will team up with GT Academy Europe winner Gaetan Paletou (22) from France, GT Academy International champ Ricardo Sanchez (24), GT Academy Middle East/Africa winner Ahmed Bin-Khanen and 2012 German GT Academy winner and team pro driver Florian Strauss.
For the 21-year old Hammann – who grew up in the shadow of Road America, arguably the most challenging and scenic road racing facility in the U.S. – the race is something he has been waiting for since he first ran a go kart his father bought him at age six. Hammann was enrolled at UNC-Charlotte in a Mechanical Engineering program when he found out he was a finalist in the North American GT Academy finals.
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"Six months ago, I had no idea I would be standing here getting ready to race on a world stage. It is a big step up to drive the GT3 spec Nissan GT-R race car, but I've been training with these guys for three months and I think we're up to the challenge," Hammann said. "Florian is so good in this GT3 car and he has experience at this track, so he's been incredibly helpful in preparing the team for this race."
Frenchman Gaetan Paletou follows in the footsteps of past winners of the European competition, including Lucas Ordonez, Jann Mardenborough and Wolfgang Reip. He 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. "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."
The new recruits' 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."
"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 2 p.m. local time (5 a.m. US Eastern). The full 24-hour race will be televised live for the first time on Motors TV and broadcast live on Radio Le Mans.