Thanks to the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy, gamer Nick McMillen is now a professional race car driver. The 2013 GT Academy champion took his prowess in the virtual driving arena and translated it into a career behind the wheel. McMillen is currently competing in the Blancpain Series and experienced his first start April 13 at Monza in Italy, helping his team earn an impressive fifth in class in their first Blancpain Series appearance. McMillen also brought the GT-R to second in class during his stint behind the wheel, demonstrating his ability to quickly maneuver through the pack. With the 2014 GT Academy now open to online racers, the pro race car driver talks about GT6, PS4 and explains how he uses video games to help get an edge on the track in this exclusive interview.
What kind of driving experience did you have before entering the GT Academy?
I had a decent amount of driving in a few areas that definitely helped me out. I had done a couple track days and some autocross, going out and messing around in the snow when we had some. Also, I spent a lot of time driving Yamaha Rhinos around when I was about 13 or 15 years old in the dirt or out in the sand dunes. And where most professional racers begin, I also began karting when I was eight and have tried to go karting when I can ever since.
How much time did you spend practicing on the game to get through the video game portion of the contest?
Too much time! [Laughs] It really depends. Before the competition started, I was racing in S.N.A.I.L. Spec Racing, which was about two to four hours in a given week to help prepare myself for the 2013 Academy. Once GT Academy actually started, I probably put in an average of two to three hours a day during the final round to make sure I stayed in the top 32. Of course, I would have a day or a few days that I wouldn’t play just to get a break from it.
What was the competition like online versus in person for the video game?
The online portion was very repetitive to make sure you had a top time, and it was very frustrating at times as well. You’re just staring at the back of a ghost car trying to chase down the top time. Once we got to the in-person part of the competition, I really enjoyed myself. Being able to actually race with real people in a competition was fun and relaxing for me, as I was confident I had the skills to make it to Silverstone.
What was the experience like once the real world portion of the contest kicked in?
The experience of the real world portion was a blast. There was definitely more stress because this meant it was time to perform and see if we had real skills. I thrived on it though, because my ultimate goal was to make it to Silverstone, have a good time and learn as much as I could while I was there. I did just that, and it turned out to be the right strategy/mindset to win it all.
How did the hand-eye coordination from the video game translate to real world cars?
I would say it definitely helps once you get to the real world situation. You’re always paying attention to every movement and sound for what reaction you may have where you might need to make a split second decision.
What role does the realistic handling of the licensed vehicles play once you get behind the wheel of the Nissan?
The gap from game to real life is getting smaller. I was able to apply certain techniques like trail braking into corners, or smooth and minimal steering input to be quick. Taking those from Gran Turismo and applying them to real cars actually worked in being decently quick in the Nissans we drove.
How realistic is the video game track compared to the real Silverstone?
I was actually quite surprised at how realistic the in-game track is to the real life track. I noticed how many inputs were quite similar for both the game and real track with the 370Z. One particular example was the Vale to Club section, where you had to lift off real quick just to get the front end to grab some traction and get a better angle so you could go flat-out through Club corner on to the F1 pit straight.
What’s the competition like from the perspective of video game drivers’ styles from different countries?
I honestly haven’t noticed much difference between other regions. I think each person has his or her own driving style, but I know for some reason the Europeans are always very quick.
How do you use GT6 now in your real racing preparation?
Honestly, we don’t use Gran Turismo much for real racing prep. I did use it for Monza though, since I could run the same Nissan NISMO GTR GT3 we run in real life.
What role do the sit-down driving simulations play for professional drivers today? Sony has had these at events like E3 and the LA Auto Show.
A majority of professional drivers train on simulators quite a lot nowadays. It’s a great way to learn tracks, and to look at your driving style for where you could improve upon the real thing.
What do you hope the PS4 will add to the driving experience once GT goes next gen?
I’m anxious to see what GT has going for their next generation. I’m hoping we can really start getting into some good 3D graphics/physics and enhance the reality of moving and distance that you obviously use so much in the real car. This would help bridge the gap between virtual and reality that many people struggle with.
How do you feel the improved visuals will help aspiring drivers on next gen in the near future?
It will just keep improving people’s driving styles and apply them better to reality. You better know what things to look for, and it helps enhance the overall experience.
What advice would you give to gamers who think they’re good enough at GT6 to win the competition?
If you truly believe you can win, then put 100 percent of your effort starting right now. Get out and start exercising almost every day if you can. And the biggest thing would be getting as much in-car experience as possible. Go and do some karting, autocross, tracks days, etc. The more experience you have, the better chance you have over everyone else when it comes time to perform. That’s what really helped me win in the end — getting myself as much in-car experience as I could before the competition.