Nissan’s successful GT Academy program unleashes four new graduates in this week’s Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai, including the latest winner from the U.S.
Less than six months ago, Nick McMillen (pictured, center) was working as a car salesman in Salem, Oregon. Now, the 20-year-old is gearing up for his first professional race, having beat more 400,000 gamers for the top prize of becoming a Nismo Athlete
“The whole process has been a really good experience,” McMillen told Sportscar365. “We did our driver development program for a couple of months. So we were in the U.K., all four of us winners, and we did a bunch of races to get our signatures [for a race license] as well as some training as well to prepare for this.
“Now being here, I’m excited to get in the car and do our first professional race.”
McMillen has joined fellow 2013 GT Academy winners Miguel Faisca (Europe), Florian Strauss (Germany), Stansislav Aksenov (Russia) and Nissan’s first gamer-to-racer, Lucas Ordonez, to tackle the twice-around-the-clock desert enduro in one of RJN Motorsport’s Nissan 370Z Nismos.
With four rookie drivers, all embarking on their first 24-hour race, just getting to the finish could sound like a tall order. However, last year’s GT Academy lineup of Ordonez, Roman Rusinov and 2012 winners Wolfgang Reip, and Mark Schulzhitskiy finished 2nd in the SP3 class, proving the program’s success.
For McMillen, the goals are simple. “I think it’s going to be a matter of making sure you take care of the car because we haven’t done any big endurance races before,” he said. “Hopefully our fitness will be up and we can put 100 percent into every single stint.
“Ultimately, the goal is to run smoothly and not get caught up in traffic or make any mistakes that would cost us time on track.”
McMillen is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former USA winners Steve Doherty and Bryan Heitkotter, who competed in the Blancpain Endurance Series, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge last year.
Additionally, both got a chance to drive Pickett Racing’s Prototype Challenge car in a test at Sebring last November, while 2012 European and Russian winners Reip and Schulzhitskiy made their LMP2 debuts in end-of-season FIA World Endurance Championship races.
“We go through so much to get to where we are now,” McMillen added. “It’s like shoving a few years of experience into a few months. It’s almost hard not to be successful because we have so many good people around us and we have such a good crew that’s doing everything they can for us.
“It’s great to see everyone working together and pumping out these athletes and drivers that can be on the podium and win races and championships.”